Karl Aspelund, assistant professor of design at the University of Rhode Island, was recently awarded a $15,000 grant from URI’s Council for Research to begin background research for a project on space apparel – namely how space communities will recycle and use clothing. His interest in the subject was sparked following a National Public Radio report about the 100 Year Starship Initiative, a program aimed at inspiring space travel by 2112.
Previously, Aspelund worked in nationally acclaimed sculptor Brower Hatcher’s studio. He holds a Ph.D. in anthropology and material culture from Boston University and is the author of two books, “Fashioning Society’’ and “The Design Process.’’
PBN: Last year, you were asked to speak at the 100 Year Starship Symposium in Houston. What did you talk about?
ASPELUND: Manned spaceflight on this scale opens up a whole new discussion in terms of design and clothing in particular. You are not just sending humans into space; you are sending a human community. What I brought to them in Houston was a mixture of ideas. I used two seemingly mundane problems to focus the discussion: laundry and recycling. We must consider production, materials and construction, but there are also … cultural, practical and ecological issues that appear [when] you increase the scale of time and distance.
PBN: Why would 3-D printing be useful for creating space clothing?
ASPELUND: Current 3-D printing processes are rather basic and not able to create actual day-to-day clothing. What is possible now is more sculptural mesh than textile. In principle, however, I think it is one of the solutions that should be front and center in our investigations. … It’s only a matter of time before the materials begin to approach what we are used to wearing. If it could be made to work, it should hit all the necessary bases: efficient, compact, adaptable, not reliant on agriculture, and highly recyclable.
PBN: Do you foresee your space designs having an impact on clothing here on Earth?
ASPELUND: The ecological question on its own has the potential to be transformative on Earth, by decreasing the enormous ecological impact of the textile industry. If all goes well, I am certain what this all leads to will find its way into the daily lives of humans on Earth. •
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