NASA(NEW YORK) — Hundreds of children battling cancer from all around the globe are helping design colorful space suits for NASA as part of a project that’s bringing art, healing and science together.
The initiative, called The Space Suit Project, is the brainchild of Ian Cion, director of the Arts in Medicine Program at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital in Houston.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can help build community within the context of the hospital and how we can help our children manage the stresses that come with their intensive treatment,” Cion told ABC News today.
Around this time last year, Cion reached for the stars — almost literally.
“I reached out to NASA,” he said. “So many children are fascinated by the idea of outer space, and I thought it could be really cool for them to design space suits.”
NASA immediately got on board.
The space agency and hospital connected with ILC Dover, the aerospace engineering company that creates NASA’s flight suits, and “the stars just aligned,” Cion said.
Through the collaborative project, two space suits designed by children from MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital, located at the University of Texas in Houston, have been completed. One has even been to space, worn by an astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS).
Cion, along with retired astronaut Nicole Stott, is on a new mission: to create a space suit designed by young cancer patients from Cologne, Germany; Moscow, Russia; Tokyo, Japan and Montreal, Canada — the cities with space agencies that helped build and support the ISS.
Fittingly, the suit is being called “UNITY,” Stott told ABC News.
“What’s going to be really unique and beautiful about this suit is having the mix of artwork from all the different countries,” she said. “So you could pick up something distinctly Russian or Japanese looking at it up close, but as a whole, all the art just comes together and blends in an amazing way.”
Stott explained that the process to make the suits is pretty simple.
Every participating child gets a piece of canvas and paint, and they can “paint, write and do whatever they want with that canvas,” Stott said. The patches are then brought to ILC Dover engineers and designers, who quilt together all the pieces into a “gorgeous, colorful space suit.”
Though part of the original intention of the project was to inspire kids, Stott said, she’s realized that the kids have been doing more of the inspiring.
“It’s quite the emotional experience to see these kids and their families go through this incredibly difficult thing and yet still have so much strength and positivity,” she said.
Though the “UNITY” space suit will not be going up to outer space, Stott said she and Cion are still aiming for the moon.
“We’ve been thinking a lot about how we can take this project to the next step and next level,” she said. “More of us want to see colorful artwork like this on the space station and as part of space programs. We’d love to rally and get an artist in residence in space. I mean, why not think that way?”
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