The first settlers to Mars could be on a one-way trip, destined to live out their days in claustrophobic capsule shelters and stifling space suits. The romance of exploration could be quickly lost to the practical limitations of surviving on an alien planet.
But as her final project at Central Saint Martins, weaver and textile designer Alexandra Lucas imagined a different direction for space exploration. She created the Mars Exploration Suit. It’s a concept for a different type of space garment–one made from six protective layers of lightweight fabrics. The top layer shields from radiation. Three deal with pressurization. Another handles oxygen and temperature regulation. And the last, closest to your skin, tracks your body’s biometrics.
As humanity evolves to live on this new planet–possibly over thousands of years–they can shed the layers one by one, until they can go outside au natural.
“I wanted to create something which would encapsulate the excitement surrounding space travel and a potential human colony on Mars,” Lucas writes via email, “and also use the project to give people a context to explore the idea of colonizing planets and having our bodies change to adapt to a totally new environment.”
The aesthetic was inspired largely by 2001: A Space Odyssey. While hers is not a 1:1 remake of those 1960s cosmic fashions, both projects depict space travel as an experience for everyday people rather than simply astronauts in pressurized marshmallow suits.
Lucas admits that her diaphanous fabrics would need an incredible amount of research and development before they could ever perform in space, but her onion-layered approach to the design may not be as sci-fi as it seems. “Many modern technical fabrics do, in essence, have multiple layers bonded together as part of a composite,” she writes. “I wanted to build a narrative around the idea of having discrete layers, as opposed to seeing it as something that is a disadvantage.”
And it’s really the narrative that’s the most compelling part. Today, we design products around planned obsolescence in the face of rapidly paced technological advancement. We assume that next year, whatever we build will be stronger, lighter, and faster. But to expand and survive in the vast cosmos, we won’t have the fallback of Shenzhen pumping out new electronics every year. We’ll be on thousand-year journeys, placing our investments, not just in new rockets or computers or space suits for an elite group of astronauts, but in the promise of new civilizations. Countless generations of humans that will be expected to thrive on worlds that, for the first pioneers, will inevitably be a miserable slog for survival, no matter what we send with them.
“In order to have that new textile technology, we need to dream big so that we create a fictional reality to which we could design new products,” Lucas writes. “Perhaps thanks to this [project], we could create that future, even if at the moment it seems impossible.”