Fingerless Gloves Will Get You Everywhere (January 2011)
by KaiYves, age ,
I can’t help it. When people say “Twelve-oh-two” while looking at their watches, or that they went to “The Cape” for vacation, my ears perk up. I mark January 27, January 28, and February 1 with black teardrops in my school assignment pad every year.* Without moving from my bed, I can see two complete models of the solar system in my room. I’m a space travel enthusiast.
I’ve always liked science and astronomy. I can remember the first time I watched the movie Apollo 13 on television with my parents. I was about six years old, and I was doodling with markers in a notebook as the movie played. At the point when the head of Mission Control, Gene Kranz, draws a diagram of what the crippled spacecraft must accomplish and declares, “Failure is not an option!” I shouted, “I’m going to help!” and drew something that looked vaguely like his diagram.
As I got older, my interest grew and I sought out more and more information. In eighth grade, I discovered our school library had a first-edition copy of Carl Sagan’s book Cosmos. But it was far too thick and heavy to check out and carry in my backpack, so I read it page-by-page in the library before first period. It took two months, but I read the entire book. I asked for the companion series on DVD for Christmas and consciously made an effort to wear more turtlenecks to resemble Dr. Sagan.
But the item of clothing I most strongly associate with my interest in the space program is a pair of woolen, black-and-red-striped, fingerless gloves. My mom bought them for me to wear during cross-country practice last fall, when I was in 11th grade. I put them in my backpack and forgot about them. But one day that winter, after finishing an astronomy test early (naturally), I went through my backpack out of boredom. I found the gloves and pulled them on, liking the warmth on my palms and the punk rock vibe they gave off.
A few weeks later, I read an article about an experimental spacesuit called the BioSuit that was being developed at Harvard. Most spacesuits keep the body pressurized by having air between your body and the suit at a normal pressure. This works, but it means that suits have to be very big and clunky. The BioSuit created pressure by squeezing the body, which meant it could be a lot slimmer and easier to move around in, sort of like wearing a scuba wetsuit in space instead of an old hard-hat diving suit. But the article said that the technicians were having trouble creating BioSuit gloves that could maintain full pressure.
This was very important, because it’s hard to get things done in space if you can’t move your hands easily. Once I tried typing with my brother’s lacrosse gloves on to see what it was like for astronauts to work in their thick spacesuit gloves. The result was unreadable. Imagine trying to press buttons or hold on to tiny screws!
I wondered if the BioSuit researchers had thought of making “fingerless” space gloves. Could they make the palms of the gloves as usual, then make the fingers out of the stretchy BioSuit material?
That June, I read online that two astronauts would be speaking at the World Science Festival in New York City about daily life in space. One of the BioSuit’s designers, Dr. Dava Newman, would also be presenting.
I begged my mom to let me go, and she bought tickets for my best friend Erin and me. We got to the NASA pavilion early and ran around, trying out all of the exhibits and generally doing a lot of hysterical fangirl screaming. The public relations people were incredibly surprised, as they didn’t meet many teenage girls with such interest in the space program. They gave us free pins and stickers.
Even though the day was hot, I wore my gloves into the room where the speakers were. The presentations were great, and when the time came for questions, my hand shot up. I hoped they’d choose me, although I knew it was unlikely—there were so many other kids with questions, and the event was being filmed. However, the red-and-black-striped glove on my raised hand caught the moderator’s attention, and he chose me.
“My question is for Dr. Newman,” I began, and explained what I’d read and my idea. Both the moderator and Dr. Newman were impressed by the idea, but she explained that the issue in working with tools wasn’t moving the fingers of the spacesuit glove, but bending the glove in the middle of the hand. She still though it was a great question, and took a picture with me after the questions were over.
But even before that, a man with a clipboard ran up to where my mom and I were sitting and asked me to sign a waiver. He said the World Science Festival wanted to use footage of my question for publicity purposes. I signed, with my hand still in that lucky fingerless glove.
*“1202” was an alarm that went off during the landing of Apollo 11. When normal people talk about “The Cape,” they usually mean Cape Cod, but when space enthusiasts say it, they mean Cape Canaveral. Three astronauts died in the Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967. Seven others were killed on January 28, 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. Another (and hopefully final) seven died on February 1, 2003, when the space shuttle Columbia was destroyed.