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The story behind the spacesuits that got us to the moon

Astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin walked on the moon on July 20, 1969 wearing a 21-layer spacesuit.

Astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin walked on the moon on July 20, 1969 wearing a 21-layer spacesuit. NASA/Getty Images

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When millions of people tuned in to watch the moon landing in July 1969, they probably weren’t thinking much about the spacesuits that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were wearing. But a lot of time and energy went into making the 21-layer garment, which had to keep the astronauts safe from extreme temperatures.

Kassia St. Clair wrote about the work behind the spacesuits in her book “The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History.”

“If you’re thinking about the majesty of getting human beings into space, the company that allowed this to happen, that created the spacesuits, may surprise you,” St. Clair said. “They’re known as Playtex and famous for making women’s underwear.”

There was a culture clash between Playtex and NASA, which felt that the company didn’t reflect NASA’s desired high-tech image.

“There were several attempts once Playtex had won the contract to undercut them,” St. Clair said. “Other companies were invited to produce alternative suits that might be better than the Playtex ones, but the Playtex suits kept coming up trumps.”

It was Playtex’s suit, complete with fabric also used in women’s bras and girdles, that allowed humans to walk on the moon for the first time in 1969.

Click the audio player above to hear the full story.

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