Sabrina Thompson is an aerospace engineer for NASA as well as a passionate artist — and she found a way to combine the two seemingly contradictory fields. The innovator is on a mission to create the first spacesuit “designed by women for women.”
Thompson is the founder and CEO of a clothing brand called Girl in Space Club. The forthcoming spacesuit is the brand’s largest project to date, and Thompson said she hopes it will make space exploration more inclusive.
“We are changing the lens through which we gaze beyond earth,” the Girl in Space Club website reads. “We’ll have fashion experts, real astronauts, engineers, and other top professionals working with us to make sure the space travel suit meets the needs of real astronauts, in addition to being stylish.”
To make it happen, the brand launched a crowdfunded Kickstarter campaign. In November, it surpassed its $75,000 goal, enabling Girl in Space Club to begin phase one of the process: designing and building the suit.
“Human spaceflight has definitely been making space for women — now we need to keep up that momentum and continue to encourage more young girls to seek out the opportunities that exist in the world of space exploration, both on and off our planet,” the campaign states.
Thomson, 37, previously told NASA she grew up thinking she would be an artist, until a high school teacher suggested she try engineering. As it turns out, she got to do both. A hobbyist photographer and painter, she’s also published a young adult book entitled Girl in Space, using the nom de plume Nefertiti Pokahontas.
“I try to find a balance between my art world and my engineering world,” she said in 2016. “Cultivating my creative side allows me to come up with innovative ways to solve engineering problems. So being a better artist allows me to be a better engineer. They go hand in hand.”
Thompson joined NASA in 2010, and now designs orbit trajectories for space missions. “I don’t want to sound like a GPS,” she told Women’s Wear Daily this past June, “but I basically calculate how much it costs in terms of fuel and then the path that we’re going to take to get from point A to point B.”
Her other design project, the spacesuit, is meant to be worn by astronauts on those missions, during launch and reentry — but it will also be available for consumers to purchase for around $600, according to the publication.
As to whether Thompson herself will one day don the suit in space, she’s certainly hopeful. Speaking to CNBC in November, she explained that she’s applied twice to fly on a mission with NASA, and plans to try again in 2024. “They say it takes two or three tries before you get selected,” she said.
Until then, she’s got plenty to keep her busy as she represents and inspires young women interested in fashion and STEM. “My idea is, let’s stop trying to get a seat at the table,” Thompson said. “How about we get our own table and just sit at it?”