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Apple TV+’s Role in NASA’s New Moon Suits
Plus, soapy chicken, Blackberry, and SUPER BLOOM.
About Those New Moon Suits…
Last week, NASA and contractor Axiom Space revealed prototypes of the new spacesuits that the Artemis III astronauts will wear on the lunar surface a few years from now. These are the first new space suits designed for NASA in 40 years.
The sleek suit, in dark colors with splashes of orange, got a lot of people talking about a fresh look for the new generation of lunar explorers. And it is! The shape, technology, and functionality of these suits represent major innovations over the bulky spacesuits of the Apollo era or even the current EVA (extravehicular activity) suits. As the New York Times’ chief fashion critic put it, the suits are “less Michelin Man… and more Hulk-meets-anthropomorphic-anteater-meets-‘Star Trek.’”
But the suits presented on NASA and Axiom’s livestream are not the suits that Artemis astronauts will be wearing on the moon in 2025. Namely, the suits will not be black, blue, and orange. They’ll be the typical solid white of the spacesuits of yore. And that’s for a very important reason: to keep astronauts safe and cool by reflecting the harsh light of the sun on the lunar surface.
So why were the prototypes such a drastically different color? Didn’t that just make things more confusing?
But it was also to protect both Axiom’s proprietary design and the suits themselves from possible damage during ground training.
The dark colored suit we saw was a cover on top of the actual white suit. And here’s my favorite part: the cover layer was designed in part by Esther Marquis, the costumer designer on the Apple TV+ series For All Mankind.
For All Mankind is one of my favorite shows of the last few years. It’s an alternate history series that imagines what would have happened if the Soviet Union beat the US to the moon in 1969 and, therefore, the Space Race effectively never ended. Three seasons in and the ripple effects have completely changed the world––a breakthrough in nuclear fusion that effectively nipped climate change in the bud, NASA diversifying astronaut crews as early as the 70s, the World Wide Web never launching, John Lennon surviving the assassination attempt, and King Charles marrying Camilla Bowles from the start.
Co-created by Ronald D. Moore, it’s often more prestige drama than true sci-fi, but the attention to detail is nonetheless meticulous.When the show’s astronauts travel to Mars, eagle-eyed viewers noticed that some of their EVA suits looked familiar.
Show runner Ben Nedivi explained last year that the costume designs were based on one of the actual prototypes NASA has created for Mars exploration.
The real-life new lunar spacesuits are also a little similar to the Mars prototype ones. Generally, there is an acknowledged need for greater articulation and mobility as well as hand grip and dexterity. Crucially, the new suits are designed so they can be tailored to a wide range of body types and genders––90% of American adults would be able to wear one of these suits.
The technology in the helmet (outfitted with lights and an HD camera), the life support system in the “backpack,” and more got a big upgrade as well. The complexity and cost of that tech led Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo author Nicholas de Monchaux to describe it as “…less a piece of clothing than a very small building or very small spacecraft.”
And that such an advanced piece of technology with huge teams of scientists and a $228.5 million price tag behind it debuted to the public cloaked in a design done by a Hollywood costume designer absolutely blows my mind. Marquis even got a shoutout on the livestream from Russell Wilson at Axiom Space when he introduced the suit.
It’s not like the melding of Hollywood and real-life technology is anything new. SpaceX’s suits were designed in part by Jose Fernandez, a costume and creature designer who worked on movies such as Batman Returns, Planet of the Apes, and Hellboy. And we’re constantly seeing the realization of made up sci-fi inventions––like the first era of flip phones, which were modeled after Star Trek communicators.
If you want to really dive into the interplay of sci-fi and space exploration specifically, I recommend the book Astoundingby Alec Nevala-Lee and the Washington Post podcast series Moonrise, hosted by Lillian Cunningham.
But no matter how much art and pop culture have always played a role in space, I’ll never stop getting a thrill of delight when I notice it. Space is the physical manifestation of wonder and the unknown. Most of us will never travel beyond our cozy atmosphere, but we can feel a similar sense of awe in art—whether about space or not. I know that wonder can be found in all sciences, but to me, there’s something extra poetic about space, and the wider universe, and that great beyond about which we still know so little.
For those of us whose childhoods were bookended by the tragic Space Shuttle disasters of Challenger and Columbia, the space program has been little more than a background hum for most of our lives. The Mars rovers and JWST have been cool, but they haven’t united the nation in the ways that the first orbits of Earth and first moon landing did.
Artemis III will mark the first time humans have set foot on the moon in over fifty years. It will also be the first time a woman will walk on the moon, and potentially the first time a person of color does as well (several of the current candidates are women, and men, of color and NASA has made such representation a priority for the Artemis program). And it will be the first human expedition to the moon’s south pole.
A return is not exactly as exciting as a first, but the objective of the Artemis program is to establish a lunar base to serve as a stepping stone towards sending humans to Mars. And that is a mission that I think will get everyone talking again––perhaps not united, but paying attention for sure. Kids might once again know the names of the astronauts they’re watching get launched into space. And when those first astronauts in half a century step foot on the moon––if NASA’s contractors keep collaborating with Hollywood costume designers––they’ll be doing it in style.
PS – For a lighter integration of science and pop culture, here’s Paul Rudd chatting with NASA about quantum physics as part of the promotional tour for the latest Ant-Man and the Wasp movie.
🌼 SUPER BLOOM 🌼
This past weekend, I visited family in southern California and got to see the tail-end of this year’s poppy bloom in Walker Canyon. Technically, this bloom was an encore of the wild poppies’ main performance earlier this season, caused by a recent deluge of rain in the region.
As stunning as the showing was to my eyes as we drove up and down I-15, it was apparently nothing compared to 2019’s “Super Bloom.” The poppies bloomed in such huge amounts four years ago––and were so tempting for photoshoots––that Lake Elsinore city officials had to shut down several roads and hiking trails, and implemented a required shuttle bus to prevent people from parking along the side of the freeway.
Some measures were reinstated at the peak earlier this year, but while thousands of visitors from around the globe still flocked to the Wizard of Oz-esque hills, the flowers apparently did not qualify as a “super bloom” this year. The weaker bloom may have been due to the acute severity of rainfall this year, which can wash seeds away and prevent the stronger growth that results from softer, more spread out rainfall.
What’s Up In The World
Remember when the CIA had a literal policy of not hiring gay people? Well these days the agency regular attends SXSW as part of their strategy to recruit LGBTQ+ employees. Or at least that was the objective when they first started going in 2017. Nowadays, in what could be a perfect metaphor how the Silicon Valley invasion stripped Austin of its weirdness, the CIA is more interested in recruiting STEM workers than solely LGBTQ+ ones.
Last week, IFC Films dropped the trailer for their upcoming movie Blackberry. The true story of the revolutionary device, the trailer makes it feel like a cross between The Social Network and The Wolf of Wall Street, but with perhaps more focus on the truly geeky inventors. Between the tech history and the 90s nostalgia, this movie is like catnip for me, but I got even more excited when I spotted SungWon Cho AKA ProZD in the trailer. He’s a hilarious voice actor and YouTuber who, even if you don’t know by name, you have probably seen a video by at some point.
Apparently, people around the US have been complaining that the rotisserie chickens from Costco have started tasting like soap. Bon Appetit’s Li Goldstein didn’t quite come to a concrete explanation as to why, but she dug deep and I enjoyed reading the journey.
I just finished reading Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin. It’s a post-apocalyptic horror novel in which a virus called t.rex has caused all people with a certain amount of testosterone in their bodies to become monstrous zombie-ish creatures. The main characters are two trans women and a trans man who have to navigate the militant troops of TERFs that have been taking over the eastern US. If you like reading about extreme imaginings of real current tensions, I recommend it. Then again, I’m the guy who read Station Eleven in April 2020. Felker-Martin does an awesome job describing trans people with their many nuances. It’s both fun and refreshing to read references to things like the effects of estradiol, going off T to get top surgery, and the villainy of Janice Raymond without explaining any of it. It’s the rare book that actually feels like it’s for trans people. That said, this book is not for the faint of heart. It is a horror novel and it is super graphic and visceral. Do not read it over breakfast, like I did.
What’s Up In My Life
On April 5th, I’ll be facilitating a conversation with Oakley Phoenix at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon to celebrate the launch of his book The Gender Friend. Their book is an awesome 102 level guide to gender identity––I should know, I wrote the foreword! I’m super stoked to be a part of Oakley’s first book and, if you’re around Salem then, I hope you’ll join the celebration.
ICYMI, I’ll be performing Friday and Saturday nights in The Infinite Wrench with the New York Neo-Futurists in NYC from April 28 to May 20. You can learn more and get tickets here!
Next week, I’m headed to the University of Victoria’s Moving Trans History Forward conference. It’s one that I’ve wanted to attend for years so I’m stoked to check it out. I’ll also be traveling around the Pacific Northwest for several days before and after. I’ll try to queue up a newsletter for while I’m gone and can’t wait to update you on everything I learn and see when I get back.
I highly recommend the official companion podcast in which lead actress Krys Marshall talks to scientists, NASA officials, and the filmmakers for background context and behind-the-scenes details about each episode. And make sure you don’t miss the bonus videos attached to certain episodes within Apple TV+, which dig deeper into the real and imagined historical events the show plays with.
The New York Times described the suits as “essentially gender nonbinary,” which was news to me. I knew that the older suits had been designed for men, but I didn’t know they literally were men. Now the suits themselves are nonbinary! Unless of course The New York Times just thinks the word nonbinary is a synonym for “gender neutral” and can be applied to objects as well as people. And I can’t believe that an institution like The New York Times that always does its due diligence on trans issues would phrase something so awkwardly!
If you use the links in this newsletter to purchase any of the books I mentioned, I'll get a little kickback.