Ground Control to Major Tom

10 Things about the history of the spacesuit

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I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but there seems to be a lot of astronaut movies coming out right now. Maybe it’s because of the renewed interest in manned space missions since the success of the Mars Curiosity mission last year, I don’t know.It kind of feels like it’s 1998 again. But have you ever wondered how they designed the spacesuit? It’s become a pretty iconic look in its own right, in both science fiction and other cultural contexts. Thom Browne even closed his first Paris menswear show in 2010 with models walking down the runway in spacesuits.

1//Space Odyssey
The first spacesuit was designed for the Mercury missions (1958-1963). They were only meant to be worn inside the spacecraft in case of cabin pressure loss, so they are much less bulky than the spacesuits we know today. Made of aluminized nylon, which gives them a very distinct metallic sheen, the Mercury suits consisted of a helmet, lace up boots, and gloves. Stylistically speaking, they’re much more Lost in Space than Armageddon.

2//Space Chimps
The Mercury spacesuit prototypes were tested on a chimpanzee named Enos. Yes, that Space Chimps movie is entirely real.

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3//Apollo, Apollo
The Apollo space missions (1963-1972) required a different type of spacesuit than those designed for previous missions. It needed to be able to protect the wearer from the hazards of space outside the ship, which include things like radiation and extreme heat and cold, and they needed a suit that had its own life support. The Gemini spacesuit, which came before Apollo’s, could withstand a space walk, but mobility was limited because the life support was through the ship via a hose. Not very practical, and done away with entirely for the Apollo missions.

4//Intergalactic Layers
The final design features about a million layers. The first is a water-cooled nylon undergarment to regulate your body temperature. Then you put on a multilayered pressure suit with three layers – lightweight nylon, neoprene coated nylon, and regular nylon. On top of that there are 5 layers of alumized Mylar interwoven with four layers of Dacron for heat protection, two more layers of Dacron for further heat protection, and then two layers of Teflon to protect the suit from rips. This process takes about 45 minutes. The boots of the Apollo suit differ from those of past missions, because they’re designed to be able to walk on rocky terrain.

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5//EVA Suits
These suits have come to be known as EVA (Extravehicular Activity) suits, and have been used on pretty much every manned mission since Apollo, and have been made by ILC Dover since the 60s. ILC also makes NASA’s shuttle suits.

6//Colour Me Orange
The bright orange “pumpkin suits,” or Advanced Crew Escape Suits, are only meant to be worn within the shuttle during takeoff and landing. These suits are orange because it makes it easier to spot the wearers in case a search and rescue needs to be done. Underneath these are usually a g-suit, a tight fitting dark green suit filled with inflatable bladders that are designed to keep the wearer’s blood from pooling in their legs while in periods of high acceleration. When astronauts are just chilling in the shuttle, they wear Air Force issue flight suits.

7//Why White?
In a similar fashion, EVA suits are white because it reflects heat and stands out in the blackness of space.

8//Sputnik Baby
Russia and China, the only other two nations with manned space programs, have their own custom spacesuits. In Russia cosmonauts wear the Sokol suit for launch and landing, and the Orlan suit for space walks. Both are white. NASA sometimes also uses these suits. Chinese astronauts wear Feitan suits, which are modeled after the Orlan suit, and a landing suit based on the Sokol.

9//The Future
NASA has recently been testing new prototypes for deep space and Mars missions. They recently contracted ILC to make them the T-2, a prototype that is meant for deep space missions, and is more flexible and comfortable than EVA suits.

10//A Spacesuit On Its Own
There is a spacesuit that has been made into a satellite. Called the SuitSat, it was an Orlan suit that was recommissioned as a cheap satellite. It was launched into space on February 3, 2006, but has since been pulled back into our atmosphere and burned up.

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//Extra Credit Reading List

“Why are Astronauts Spacesuits Orange?” by Clara Moskowitz (LiveScience). June 2, 2010.

“NASA’s Spacesuits Through the Years: Photos.” by Irene Klotz (Discovery News). May 3, 2013.

“History of U.S. Spacesuits.” by the Man-Vehicle Laboratory, MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (mit.edu). March 17, 1997.

“NASA – The History of Spacesuits.” by Unknown. (nasa.gov). September 16, 2008.

Our Lips Aren’t Sealed

10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Lipstick

A lot has happened in the 5000 years since the dawn of lip paint. Wars, corruption, harem pants—the list goes on, and somehow, lipstick has survived. But everyone seems to have an opinion on it—Sarah Palin calls it the distinguishing factor between hockey moms and pitbulls. Holly Golightly can’t read the paper without it. Yes, we have very intimate relationships with our rouges, and below, you’ll find our list of 10 facts that’ll blow your mind about this colourful cosmetic.

1 // Don’t Forget Your Lipstick, Mummy!
Cleopatra used henna and carmine to paint her lips, and in her time, women were encouraged to be buried with two pots of lip paint so they would look good on the other side.

2 // Red-Lip District
The Moulin Rouge may have been hoppin’ in the 19th century, but alcohol-, prostitute-, and lipstick-induced good times date back to the Ancient Greeks (and perhaps even earlier). For the Greeks, though, the cosmetic was popular amongst women of the night, coming to signify poor social standing and low morals.

3 // Lipstick for the Lawless
At one point, wearing lipstick was actually illegal. During the French Revolution, lopping the head off a king may have been acceptable, but lipstick was completely banned. Wearing it was considered to be sympathetic to the monarch, and anyone caught with it was condemned to the guillotine. To borrow a line: off with their heads!

4 // Hot off the Production Line
Women (and a fair amount of men) added the cosmetic to their daily beauty routines in 1880, when French company Guerlain produced the first commercially successful lipstick. It was composed of a mouth-watering mixture of grapefruit pomade and wax.

5 // Portable Beauty
Women’s handbags welcomed a new addition in 1915, when Maurice Levy designed the first sliding metal tube. Thanks to this innovation, applying lipstick in public became socially acceptable. Instead of lugging pots of lip paint around, women could bring the convenient little tube with them wherever they went.

6 // Ain’t no Stalin our Lipstick Production
Lipstick experienced a resurgence of popularity after World War I, when women wanted to maintain their femininity while taking on new roles in the workforce. Fast forward to the next World War, and lipstick is prioritized by good ol’ Churchill when he rations all makeup—except for the precious tubular commodity. He felt it boosted morale on the homefront.

7 // Lipstick Fit for a Queen
Lipstick became a coveted Crown gem in 1952, when Elizabeth II commissioned her own shade to match her coronation robes. The royal rouge was named Balmoral after her Scottish country home.

8 // Lady in Red
On her film sets, Elizabeth Taylor required that she be the only person wearing red lipstick. Everyone else would have to wear a different shade or none at all.

9 // A Moment on the Lips, Forever on the Hips
A whopping 92 per cent of women wear lipstick regularly and buy an average of four tubes a year. But this magical substance doesn’t just stay on your lips; the average woman consumes four to nine pounds of lipstick in her lifetime, making the inside just as pretty as the outside. Not.

10 // Read my Lips
According to Dior makeup artist Eliane Gouriou, different lipstick colours convey different messages. Beige means “I don’t want to be noticed for this aspect of my personality.” Red evokes the feeling that “I have sensual and luscious lips, which I accept and which I offer.” Dark brown or violet means “I provoke, I impose, but my mouth is not to be touched.” Our thoughts? Let your lips, not your lipstick, do the talking.

photography // Stephanie Chunoo & Tabitha Poeze

further reading // Lipstick: A Celebration of the World’s Favourite Cosmetic. Jessica Pallington, 1998

Muscovite Splendor

10 things about Olga Bulbenkova and the court dress of the House of Romanov

I had never heard of Olga Bulbenkova until a friend from high school added her to their inspirations on Facebook. I took one look at her stunning, opulent designs and knew that I had to know more about this woman and the style of the Russian court. Here are 10 things about this fascinating style and time period.

1 // Birth of a Fashion House
Olga Nikolaevna Bulbenkova (1835-1918), founded a fashion house called Madame Olga’s in St. Petersburg in the mid-1800s that went on to become one of the most popular for designing gowns for the Russian court, and specifically the Imperial Family. Not bad for the daughter of a priest.

2 // Not the Only Game in Town
Other important designers for the Russian court during this period include Izembard Chanceau, A.T. Ivanova, and the English designer Charles Worth. Each designer had their own unique look and specialty.

3 // Straw into Gold
Madame Olga’s house was known for its gold thread embroidery, which was done at the Novotikhvinsky convent. Convents were traditionally where this intricate embroidery was done.

4 // Palace Restrictions
All dresses made at Madame Olga’s followed the strict edicts for court dress that were set by Tsar Nicholas I in 1834. The cut, colour, and decoration of a gown signified its owner’s position in the court hierarchy. You could probably say that Nicholas I was a bit of a control freak.

5 // Uniform of the Court
This edict specified that women in the Russian court wear “Russian Dress Uniforms” (Paradnaya Plat’e). This was originally a white embroidered silk gown with a velvet overdress and long open sleeves in the Muscovite style. They had very full, bell-like skirts that fastened at the waist with a gold cord. These gowns were incredibly heavy and unwieldy, but were based on the traditional Russian style, as Nicholas wanted court dress to emphasize national Russian tradition as well as make it easier to tell the status of the women in his court. The style was eventually streamlined and modernized a bit, but still retained a look that was distinctly Russian. You know that amazing gown from the end of the animated Anastasia movie? It’s a very good representation of how the court style looked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

6 // The Topper
Elaborate jeweled headdresses called Kokoshniks were also required. Married women wore theirs with veils. Needless to say, I wish I had 10 of them. Luckily for me, you can buy them on Etsy (!!!!).

7 // For Royal Bods Only
The Edict on Court Dress also specified that only the Empress or the Grand Duchesses (The Emperor’s daughters) could wear cloth of gold, or cloth of silver. However, if the Empress was wearing cloth of silver, the Grand Duchesses couldn’t wear it at the same time. Unfortunately for the Grand Duchesses, the Empress liked wearing silver a lot, and the Grand Duchesses mostly got to wear it at their weddings.

8 // Colours of the Court
Attendants to the Imperial family could only wear gowns in two colours—garnet red and emerald green. It was always Christmas at the Russian court, apparently.

9 // Watch that Train
The length of one’s train was also important—the longer the train, the higher one’s status. I would be OK if we brought this one back.


10 // End of an Era
Madame Olga’s went out of business in 1917 when the Revolution came, since the dissolution of the court meant there was no longer any business for them. The house’s last large court commission was in 1913 for the 300th Anniversary of the House of Romanov (see above image).

And I had to add one more, because we couldn’t finish this without talking about what happened to these designers following the fall of the House of Romanov

11 // Death of an Industry
The Revolution also saw the extinction of the ecclesiastical embroidery you see on the gowns that houses like Madame Olga’s made. Most of the women who did this work fled to France, and were quickly snapped up by couturiers like Patou, Lanvin, and Chanel (Russia’s loss was Paris’s gain). This industry is only just now seeing a bit of a resurgence, as there are convents trying to practice this traditional art once more.

The Graveyard Scene, The Golden Years

Not just for goths: 10 things about Vampira

It’s the mid-’50s, and television is as bland as ever. Mrs. Cleaver and the nuclear family grace the screens of identical idiot boxes across the good, wholesome, U.S. of A.

Then on a dark evening, an image of a curvaceous vamp walking through a mock hallway surrounded by cheap fog machines appears on television screens. She gazes out at audiences, and when she comes face to face with the camera (and viewers) she lets out a blood curdling scream. “I am… Vampira. I hope you all had the good fortune to have a terrible week.”

The woman known as Vampira was really Maila Nurmi—a young woman trying to make it in Hollywood by being hard-working, creative, and daring in any way she knew (or could learn) how. Her persona as Vampira would go on to be remembered by goths, cult film freaks, and the fashion obsessed for years to come.

1 // Birth of a Vampira
Maila Nurmi was born in Finland on December 11, 1922. She moved to the the U.S. with her family, living in both Ohio and Oregon. She later moved to NYC to study acting and finally made it to Los Angeles, where she would begin a career in Hollywood. Maila modeled for Bernard of Hollywood and Man Ray, and supported herself early in her career by working as a pin-up model and a coat-check girl.

2 // Everyday is Halloween
In 1953, Maila attended a masquerade ball dressed in a tight black Morticia-esque dress, inspired by Charles Addams’s New Yorker drawings—the original Addams family. After winning first prize, she was tracked down by a television producer looking for someone to do skits and host a late night horror movie program—The Vampira Show.

3 // A Creature of Her Own Design
While Morticia Addams may have inspired Vampira’s look, she was really a character all of Maila’s own imagination:

“Vampira is a kind of entity, we can call her a woman even though she’s androgynous… who survives in this carnal world. I, Maila Nurmi, am not.”

Vampira lived through the depression; being poor, skinny, and scrawny; wearing second-hand clothes and having very low self-esteem. She needed something to cling to in such pragmatic times, so she created an imaginary image to keep her faith in the world going. The character Maila created was inspired by her fantasies and fascinations with characters such as The Dragon Lady of the Terry and The Pirates comic book series, the Evil Queen from Snow White, and silent movie star Theda Bara, the first “vamp.”

4 // The Lady is a Vamp
Maila was no ghoul, taking the horror genre into her own hands and crafting her Vampira character out of a combination of sex and death. She borrowed Charles Addams’s Morticia, and added elements of fetish attire and general provocativeness—a cinched 17-inch waist, a plunging neckline, fishnets, and voluptuous curves. Accessorized with a phallic cigarette holder and matching long black nails, Vampira was dressed to kill.

5 // Blacklisted (and Dressed in Black)
Maila’s sex appeal was the least of Channel 7’s worries—eventually The Vampira Show was cancelled due to Maila’s tendency to make subversive comments, and according to newspapers at the time, her suspected left-leaning politics. Maila went on to tell the story of how she was blacklisted from television and had a horribly hard time finding work because of it: going from appearing nightly on television to living off of $13 a week.

6 // When All Else Fails, Plan 9
Out of work and desperate to support herself, Maila took a role in a production by the infamous Edward D. Wood Jr. After reading the script for a film called Grave Robbers From Outer Space, and disgusted with the lines Wood had written for her, Maila insisted on a silent role. Dressed as Vampira, and bringing a crowd to the film because of it, an undead Maila would silently walk towards the camera, arms out and ready to frighten. Her role in what would eventually be called Plan 9 From Outer Space and by critics, “the worst movie ever made,” would have this image seared in the minds of cult film fans forever.

7 // Bat Your Lashes
Vampira’s fashion would go on to inspire gothic ladies for years to come. Her bat-eye glasses, created in 1949 by Edward Melcarth, are an accessory (and artifact) of note. The original pair is now owned by tattoo and television star Kat Von D and recently a company created a limited edition pair of sunglasses inspired by the originals. However, vamp was not her only look. Maila played a rat-loving beat poet in the film The Beat Generation, sporting a short cropped cut and a bohemian look. Images of her with a chelsea-like hair cut (a tuft of bangs on a bald head), accessorized with elfish ears and sci-fi accessories can be found in her archives.

8 // Creatures of The Night
More than just a blood sucker, Maila was also an animal lover. Maila spent Christmas of 1956 recovering from first degree burns on her arms and hands after a fire broke out in her apartment one evening. Her cat, Ratface, was said to have helped her escape in time. She posed for pictures after the incident with bandages on her hands while holding the beloved feline.

9 // An Uncanny Resemblance
In the ’80s, Maila was working with a television studio to re-vamp the Vampira character and make a comeback on the small screen. After three months, they stopped calling her to come in to the studio, and the next thing she knew, Elvira appeared. Maila tried to sue actress Cassandra Peterson unsuccessfully for eight years. Peterson gained success and fame with the character, and Maila financially gained nothing. She criticized Peterson’s use of the money on “houses and red limousines,” arguing that when she decided to re-visit the character she wanted to donate the profits to animal welfare.

10 // Forever Undead
By 1962 Maila’s career in entertainment dwindled and she found herself laying linoleum flooring and cleaning celebrities’ houses for 99 cents an hour. By the ’70s she was selling handmade jewellery and clothing in her antique shop, Vampira’s Attic, on Melrose Avenue.

Maila Nurmi passed from this wretched planet in 2008, leaving the world with memories, style, and a cemetery of artifacts and memorabilia that today are used in exhibits and documentaries about her life and influence.

R.I.P. Vampira.

images // courtesy Official Vampira