The Final Frontier of
Art and Science


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Science and art can go together—just look at Nikolay Moiseev and Ted Southern, who teamed up in 2010 to launch a space suit design firm called Final Frontier Design, Brooklyn, NY.

With 20 years of experience at Zvezda, Russia’s national space suit supplier, Moiseev’s space-suit designs have protected cosmonauts in space since 1988. Southern has 12 years of materials and fabrication experience for the special effects and costuming industries in New York City.

The NASA Challenge

Southern first met Moiseev at NASA’s Astronaut Glove Challenge in 2007.

“Obviously, Nik entered because of his extensive experience at Zvezda in Russia, making space suits. I entered the challenge as my master’s sculpture thesis. The challenge fit perfectly for what I was interested in—hands and technical wearables.”

Nikolay Moiseev and Ted Southern.

Nikolay Moiseev and Ted Southern. Image: Final Frontier Design

Although neither of them won in 2007, they stayed in touch and entered the next NASA challenge in 2009 as a team—this time winning a monetary prize and getting serious attention from NASA, which provided them with a $100,000 grant to further develop a five-finger glove that outperformed NASA’s own technology at the time. They also used some of the money to launch Final Frontier Design, their Brooklyn-based startup, to design and develop apparel for space missions.

Space suit technology is a very challenging, tightly defined, cutting-edge niche business.

“We are trying to protect the human body against the harsh physical realities of space travel—vacuum, thermal extremes, radiation, high velocity, and non-Earth gravity,” says Southern. “Many people don’t really have a sense of these realities and are intrigued about wearable solutions to these problems. The paradox of designing lightweight, comfortable, flexible garments that can resist these kinds of extreme attributes is quite a challenge.”

Final Frontier Design’s IVA suit (top) and Anti-G pants (bottom)

Final Frontier Design’s IVA suit (top) and Anti-G pants (bottom). Images: Final Frontier Design

Space-Age Products

Final Frontier Design specializes in high-performance pressurized gloves and pressure safety garments for commercial space travel. Products include spacesuits that combine high-strength materials with very low mass and low torque movement. Anti-gravity pants are passive compression garments that feature more than two meters of lacing across large portion of legs, which help humans endure high gravity loads during and after space flight. Gloves are lightweight and provide high dexterity, including full wrist and hand range of motion, with very low torque. Mechanical counter-pressure (MCP) garments exert an even pressure onto the body, equivalent to the pressure of gas in a traditional space suit, through mechanical methods. Moiseev and Southern are currently developing a functional prototype MCP glove that will provide the most natural, safe, and effective hand use possible in space.

“The most interesting aspect of space suit design is the human-machine interface,” says Moiseev. “On one hand the space suit is cloth for the astronaut, but on the other it is a pressure vessel. A space suit is pressurized in order to provide the correct atmosphere for the human being inside. The space suit is inflated like a basketball. An astronaut cannot move a hand or finger inside a space suit without specially designed joints—convolutes, gores, rotary bearings, etc. Soft mobility joints are specific to space suits and one of the most critical items.”

Southern notes that the human factor in space flight is often taken for granted—“build a rocket, put in some life support equipment, strap in some people, and get them into space,” he comments. “It is, in fact, very difficult to comfortably integrate humans and machines together.”

Final Frontier Design is hoping to receive flight certification for its space suits and anti-gravity pants within the year.

“We are looking forward to flying our products and making space travel safer, more comfortable, and more economical,” says Southern.

Mark Crawford is an independent writer.

The paradox of designing lightweight, comfortable, flexible garments that can resist the harsh physical realities of space travel is quite a challenge.

Ted Southern, co-founder, Final Frontier Design

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April 2013

by Mark Crawford, ASME.org