Commercial Spacesuit Tailors Hire NASA Contest Winner
Southwest Harbor, Maine's Peter Homer performs tests with his homemade spacesuit glove during NASA's 2007 Astronaut Glove Challenge on May 3, 2007. Homer's entry won top prize, $200,000, during the contest.
Credit: Malik.

WASHINGTON – Peter Homer, an out-of-work aerospace engineer and one-time sailmaker from Maine who won $200,000 from NASA this May for an astronaut glove stitched together on his dining room table, has been hired by a start-up hoping to outfit private space explorers.

Los Angeles-based Orbital Outfitters intends to put Homer?s engineering and sewing skills to work on a pressurized space suit for suborbital space flyers. A prototype of that suit, dubbed the Industrial Suborbital Space Suit-Crew, was unveiled at the X Prize Cup in New Mexico in late October.

?We?ve brought Peter Homer on as a consultant initially for glove design and hopefully other parts of the suit,? said Jeff Feige, Orbital Outfitter?s chief executive officer. He said Homer would continue to work out of his home in Southwest Harbor, Maine. ?I think for the moment we will work where he is,? Feige said. ?We?re a small company and we don?t need things right away,? he said, noting that there is not exactly a pressing demand right now for the company?s wares.

Homer, a mechanical and aeronautical and astronautical engineer with degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Stanford University, took home $200,000 in NASA?s first-ever Astronaut Glove Challenge by demonstrating that a glove he designed could perform at least as well as NASA?s current space glove – built by Hamilton Sundstrand and ILC Dover – in a variety of dexterity, flexibility and durability tests held over a two-day period.

Orbital Outfitters landed its first contract last year to design the emergency pressure suits for a piloted suborbital vehicle being developed by XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, Calif.

Orbital Outfitters also is working with a sister company called Space Diver on a pressure suit it hopes will enable some individual to blow past the high-diving record Joe Kittinger set in 1960. Kittinger, then a young military officer, jumped from a helium balloon hovering above 30 kilometers in altitude as part of a U.S. Air Force research project on high-altitude bailouts.

Feige said breaking that longstanding record is a step toward the companies? goal of finding the right combination of space suit and suborbital vehicle that will allow thrill-seeking individuals to sky dive from the edge of space, an altitude some 70 kilometers above where Kittinger made his jump.

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