The Washington Post

Next-level spacesuits, brought to you by a Victoria’s Secret designer and Russian engineer

What happens when a costume designer from New York joins forces with a Russian space suit engineer? You get a next-generation consumer space suit, crafted in anticipation of the day when zero-gravity space travel evolves from a government-funded exploration venture to a high-end tourism industry.

Ted Southern and Nikolay Moiseev met at a NASA space-suit design competition in 2009 and clicked. Southern is a sculptor and costume designer who has built massive angel wings for Victoria’s Secret; Moiseev boasts 20 years of experience working as a space suit designer for Zvezda, Russia’s national space suit supplier. With their powers combined, they placed second in the competition, pulling in $100,000 in prize money for their pressurized glove technology. They used the money to launch Final Frontier Design, the duo’s space suit development business in Brooklyn, in 2010.

The pair took to Kickstarter to raise money for the design and construction of a prototype commercial space suit for intra-vehicular travel — meaning activities that take place inside a spacecraft. “These are not moonwalking suits," Southern said in a phone interview with the Post Wednesday.

View Photo Gallery: A costume designer best known for designing the angel wings for Victoria’s Secret models teams up with a Russian spacesuit engineer to create suits for commercial space travel.

Final Frontier had raked in more than $27,000 Wednesday from 386 backers, exceeding their $20,000 fundraising goal. The suits Southern and Moiseev have built so far look like a costume straight out of “Prometheus.” The goal of the Kickstarter project is to prep a third-generation suit to present to NASA for flight certification by 2013.

The pair’s second generation prototype, which they finished developing at the end of last year, is “vastly less expensive, lighter-weight and more mobile than any space suit currently in use,” Southern says in the Kickstarter pitch video. Southern and Moiseev estimate they can sell the suits for $50,000 each, which they say is about one-fifth the pricetag of the comparable spacesuit NASA employs today.

Final Frontier won a contract with the Johnson Space Center in 2011 to further develop the glove technology Southern and Moiseev submitted in the NASA contest.

The pair’s ultimate goal is to capitalize on a highly anticipated commercial space flight industry. Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are paving the way in that direction, with Virgin Galactic offering tickets at $200,000 a pop for those interested in reserving a space on a commercial space craft.

Making the suits commercially available could be a tricky proposition, Southern said, given that the U.S. Department of Defense “considers spacesuits weapons” and restricts information on their specifications and manufacturing accordingly.

“It’s unfortunate,” Southern said. “There’s been a tendency to militarize space and this is an outgrowth of that. It’s restricting to doing business in this industry.”

Follow Gregory Thomas on Twitter: @gregrthomas

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