[VIDEO] Apparel Design Students Prepare to Fly with NASA

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This spring semester, five apparel design seniors are not
only preparing to launch their careers, they are also launching into space. Karen Fiegen joined
by Kira Erickson, Mary Ellen Berglund, Jordyn Reich, and Crystal Compton, are
11 weeks away from taking their materials research into zero gravity for
testing at NASA headquarters in Houston, TX at the end of May. 

Selected as 1 of 18 projects to participate in NASA’s highly competitive
Microgravity U, the University of Minnesota team is
the first all-female,
apparel team to participate in the program. Microgravity U is an academic opportunity for undergraduate teams from around the country to propose, design, fabricate, and fly a reduced gravity experiment over the Gulf of Mexico. Their research hopes to develop a design solution for
astronaut’s gloves that addresses the need for
minimizing sweating and absorbing moisture away from hands.     

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“The NASA experience will happen over nine days, beginning
with preparation and meeting the other teams and ending with two flight days,”
explains Fiegen whose research in a studio course last year was the seed for the project. Reflecting on aspirations to design apparel, Fiegen
recalls learning to sew at age nine. “I still remember the first dress I sewed
for my Barbie–a black mermaid dress with purple polka dots! But I wanted to be
an ophthalmologist until in the 8th grade I realized fashion could
be a career.” Fiegen’s mix of technical apparel research and a senior line of bridal party wear reflects her level of energy for fashion. On top of it all, she is designing and making her own wedding dress that she will wear this summer.

Below, Reich and Erickson prepare GoPro cameras that will
capture the in-flight action and serve as notes to review post-flight.

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During the zero gravity flight, the team will test the performance of
four different materials: A microfluidic film, a wicking textile, a superabsorbent chemical polymer, and a hand powered pump. The purpose is to test for differences in performance between gravity and zero-gravity conditions. Below, Compton calculates moisture absorbency of a sponge that will be
used to simulate a perspiring hand.

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“It’s not just making something pretty. We hope that what we
find can make a difference, whether in space or other performance apparel,”
says Erickson. Fiegen also emphasized when asked about her
experience designing high-tech pieces working with NASA that “The University of Minnesota has a strong focus on technical construction and
application throughout the program”. Below, Fiegen begins
to assemble the steel housing that will contain the experiment.

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Microgravity U started in 1995, but it’s only recently that zero-gravity flights have gained commercial popularity such as Sports Illustrated toting zero gravity as the exotic locale for their 50th Anniversary Issue cover shoot in February 2014. The apparel students will bring style to NASA on the
merit of their material research.
 

Associate design professor Lucy Dunne,
who is mentoring the students, has made a collaboration with NASA part of her ADES 3224 Studio IV, the course Fiegen
started her glove material research in. Dunne leads the University’s Wearable
Technology Lab, unique among universities nationwide for its sensory
data capabilities.

With wearable
technology poised to explode in the way of biometric tracking and wearables
that can improve health and essential body functions, industry experts can expect more work
like the team is doing to come from apparel design.

It’s a theme among the team of women that math or sciences were their
favorite K-12 subjects but they were interested in creating beautiful
things. Erickson said it wasn’t
until her internship at 3M that she realized her passion for technical apparel
within fashion design and is what she will continue her graduate studies in. Their
advice to incoming apparel design students? Fiegen advises, “There are so many
opportunities and every experience is a learning process. Keep an open mind
going in to everything. I never thought I’d be doing this, going to NASA.”

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Check back for more coverage of the story as the team prepares to launch into zero gravity for the trip from May 31- June 8, 2014.

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One comment

  • Mel Fiegen

    You go girls. Vomit Comet and beyond! The astronauts of tomorrow need your research and creative ideas.

    Who needs engineering classes when you have Dr. Dunne!