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Meet the rocket scientist creating fashion for the cosmos

NASA scientist Sabrina Thompson is combining fashion and STEM to change space flight for women, as well as STEM education for youth.

Sabrina Thompson, founder of Girl in Space Club. (Courtesy photo)
Back in the spring of 2019, NASA was supposed to reach the milestone of launching the first all-women space walk.

It didn’t happen because there weren’t two medium-sized space suits that fit women. NASA rocket scientist Sabrina Thompson made a point of fixing this deficit and considering the needs of women in space by designing space suits for female astronauts.

To be sure, Thompson isn’t designing the bulky white Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) suits that you see on MTV Video Music Award statues. Through her participation in the Baltimore-based SEW BROMO fashion incubator for seven months, Thompson will be working on designing and testing the suits astronauts would wear in the shuttle on the way to space or underneath the space suit. These clothes need to withstand three Gs of G-Force, or around three times the Earth’s gravity. To date, these suits have not been specifically made with women in mind. Thompson aims to change this with her new designs.

“Space has really been a man’s world,” Thompson told Technical.ly. “Women have just been outfitted in [it].”

Thompson works remotely, designing orbits and trajectories for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Along with this day job, she runs a fashion company called Girl in Space Club. The company merges art, fashion and STEM education components with programs like STEMulating Art that give youth a design kit to make sneakers for astronauts. The goal is to turn young people into creative problem solvers, which Thompson notes is an effective skill for all disciplines.

“The same engineering mindset, coupled with the creative mindset of creating something new, [is helpful],” Thompson said, describing the transferable skills from designing trajectories to Mars at NASA and designing clothes. “At the same time, the design thinking — the systems engineering approach, if you will — turning something that’s in my mind into reality in the form of a prototype, it’s exactly the same.”

Thompson has been in Baltimore since 2019, and SEW Bromo is just the most recent in a long line of entities like Innovation Works that helped her get the vision for Girl in Space Club off the ground.

“Baltimore has welcomed me,” said Thompson. “Without the programs here in Baltimore, what I’m doing right now would be really hard to do.”

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Companies: Innovation Works (Baltimore) / NASA

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