By Senior space writer
updated 6/10/2006 8:04:07 PM ET 2006-06-11T00:04:07

Maybe musician Donald Fagen was onto something. In his classic 1982 song, I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World), the sometime-Steely Dan collaborator sang of adventurers buying a ticket to the wheel in space and a world with spandex jackets for everyone.

Well, while the wheel is still in the drawing stages, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and Rocketplane Ltd., along with numbers of designers and artisans, have taken it upon themselves to improve on the spandex: a Hyper Space Couture Design Contest.

Runway fashion
The multi-part competition has been underway for several months, patterned to elicit space tourism fashion ideas. A key rule is that suborbital wear submittals must be functional and scientific—but don’t forget a stylish chic.

“Rocketplane made the fundamental design decision to fly in a true ‘shirtsleeve environment’ very early in the development program,” explained Chuck Lauer, Vice President of Business Development for Rocketplane, based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Rocketplane’s XP vehicle will accommodate a pilot and three passengers. The fighter-sized craft is powered by both turbojet engines and a rocket engine. The vehicle is being built to accelerate to speeds of some 2,386 miles per hour (3,500 feet per second) and reach altitudes in excess of 330,000 feet (100 kilometers). Flying that suborbital profile, all onboard will be weightless for three to four minutes during the trek to the edge of space.

“In our view, not having to wear bulky pressure suits, helmets or breathing masks will enhance the customer’s space flight experience,” Lauer told SPACE.com.

Say no to Nomex
It was Misuzu Onuki, Asia Liaison for the Space Frontier Foundation and Rocketplane's Asian Business Representative, who first identified the need for design, creative expression and personal preference to become a part of the customer’s individual space flight choices.

“We were stuck in the ‘old school’ way of thinking about space flight clothing. We assumed that our choices were limited to picking our own Midnight Blue company color for the standard Nomex military flight suit, with our own logo patches in place of the NASA meatball,” Lauer pointed out.

The Space Couture Design Contest—organized by Ms. Onuki, Eri Matsui, a fashion designer based in Tokyo, and their colleagues in JAXA and the fashion industry—have spurred a fresh and exciting look at what the possibilities for personal space wear really can be.

The contest is zipping forward to having the top 10 finalists produce and test their personal creations, Lauer explained. The winning designs will become part of the catalog of Rocketplane Official Space Wear.

“Ultimately, we would like to see additional design contests for the European and American markets and a whole line of winning space wear fashion designs become a part of our catalog,” Lauer said.

Casual wear for space
The space wear contest is for the first generation of space tourism, Onuki explained.

“So far, space tourism wear has been not so considered … though space tourism is very popular among the general public,” Onuki observed. “However, wear for space tourism is one of the important elements to make space tourism very dramatic and exhilarating.”

Onuki told SPACE.com that she has been engaged in research geared toward casual wear for space over the last five years.

“Though it is easy to ask a famous fashion designer to design space suits, I chose another way to encourage mass market public attention to space tourism by performing the competition,” Onuki added. “To do that, we got a new pleasure. I was sure that it must be interesting to see the design pictures which embody people’s image and dreams towards personally experiencing space flight.”

Catwalk in space
Onuki said that, in working with fashion designer, Ms. Matsui, the intent is to cross-thread mathematics, science, art, and physics with fashion.

To date, there have been several kickoff events, as well as fashion shows to stir interest in the multi-step contest. At the end of March, contest officials had received 882 drawings by 365 individuals. Last month, the top 10 designs plus three alternate designs were picked. The actual winner, second and third place will be selected later this year.

“I think that it will be very hard to select one as the ultimate winner,” Onuki admitted.

Contest organizers plan to perform the first space fashion show—“Catwalk in Space”—this autumn hosted by Space Travellers of Germany, as well as German and Japanese media.

A Zero G Wedding Dress designed by Matsui, as well as the top 10 designers garbed in their own outfits, will float in weightlessness courtesy of a parabolic-flying Russian Ilyushin 76 aircraft.

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