Alison Donald and Ariel Landy
Over the last week many of us have been enthralled to watch the first moon landing in 1969 relived on our televisions screens for its 50th anniversary; but how many of us thought about what went into the designing and making of the protective spacesuits worn by the three Apollo astronauts, and in particular, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they walked on the moon.
These suits were the work of a team of women, led by Ellie Foraker, who were employed by the manufacturer of Playtex bras.
Even as a child, Ellie had loved designing and sewing on her machine and when an adult she got a job making garments with ILC Dover in the Plaxtex division. It was there that the quality of her work caught the attention of a company engineer. He asked Ellie if she was interested in entering a competition to design and make a prototype for a spacesuit that would be worn on the moon.
The competition was fierce with teams of engineers and military designers also participating but Ellie had a great team of hard workers determined to complete the task in time.
Their suit was to be flexible, have lots of soft, thin layers and protect the wearers from extremes of temperature.
Working all day and into the night, the women stitched and glued the layers until eventually the AL7 spacesuit was done – all 21 layers of it.
The entries were tested by the judges and finally the winner was declared. It was Ellie and her team’s AL7.
Alison Donald’s straightforward, accessible narrative focuses on Ellie Foraker’s skills and her determination to win the NASA competition, making it one of a very few moon-related books I’ve seen this past few months that has chosen to put the spotlight on women and their role in helping to send men to the moon.
Ariel Landy’s digitally worked illustrations too capture the resolve of Ellie and her team throughout the task, showing the tension when things get tough as well as the times when the mood was upbeat.
Along with the facts included in the story itself, the inside covers have short snippets of space travel information and there’s a glossary and a space time line extending from1957 and the launch of the 1st Russian satellite, through to the 1969 moon walk.
All in all an inspiring picture book for young readers. I received my copy after returning from a few days away so was unable to beat the 20th July commemoration but nonetheless this is well worth seeking out whatever the date.