NASA's sometimes ill-fitting space suits for women & others that limits achievement


EXCERPT (Susan L. Sokolowski): . . . I'm the director of the Sports Product Design Graduate Program at the University of Oregon, and equality in product design is my jam. [...] The situation in question was NASA's cancellation of an all-female spacewalk, citing the lack of a spacesuit in the right size. [...] In college, I learned about designing for the female form. This included inventing new materials, studying the body anthropometrically, physiologically, biomechanically and psychologically.

Learning about materials is important for product innovators, because they have so many levers – fibers, yarns, constructions and finishes – that can be manipulated to develop new technologies [...] Anthropometrics is a discipline of human factors engineering that allows us to describe the body shape and size of different populations like men, women, children of specific ages and ethnicities; through circumferencial measurements of the areas like the chest, waist and hip; through understanding the volumes of various body parts like the torso; and through cross-sections – which helps designers understand how tissue is distributed in a specific region of the body like the breast. Designers and engineers study physiology to develop product systems to regulate body temperature and biomechanics to understand mobility within apparel structures. We also study psychology – to understand how humans perceive attributes like color, touch and texture, which can greatly influence how acceptable a new product is for a user.

[...] Researchers, engineers and designers who create performance products for women have many considerations. The most obvious is body shape and size, where product innovators will study the female population in question through 3D body scanning, anthropometry and statistical analysis of the data. The results of this type of research affect how product patterns are drafted, materials are engineered and how technology is placed around the body, so users can perform jobs safely and efficiency. Because women have physiological differences, product solutions need to consider how body temperature fluctuates and muscles develop due to hormones. In footwear design, we think about making sure products are flexible and that the cushioning is engineered to the appropriate load, because women are relatively lighter than men in weight.

In my opinion, the issue of not having enough spacesuits on hand lies within what I call the product ecosystem. Despite the efforts made researching and developing innovative performance products for women, our work may never be fully funded, implemented, manufactured and therefore adopted by women, as the ecosystem surrounding our work may not want us to succeed. Most often budgetary decisions for research and development happen outside of the creation team.

[...] This is not just a NASA or sports industry problem. The same challenges exist for female firefighters, law enforcement officers, construction workers and those who work with hazardous materials. And this is not just a women’s problem. As I have progressed through my career, I have encountered so many other underserved users who need our help. There are nonwhite users who have anthropometrically different body dimensions than white men, such as Hispanics and Asians. Some users are disabled or require plus sizes. Gear should accommodate Muslims who aspire to be active while respecting their religion. (MORE - details)

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)