On September 16, 2016, miles above the earth, there was a fashion show of sorts. Kate Rubins the flight engineer for Expedition 49 débuted a flight suit hand-painted by kids recovering from pediatric cancer at the University of Texas MD Anderson. The suit was created via the “Spacesuit Art Project”. The “Spacesuit Art Project” is a joint venture which included the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the NASA Johnson Space Center, and ILC Dover the company that develops and creates spacesuits for NASA.
The suit was called “COURAGE” because several of the children who painted it were in isolation because of their treatment, and the name is meant to reflect the courage it takes for a child to be isolated for long periods of time during their treatment, away from, family, friends, and human contact.
The project came out of MD Anderson’s “Arts In Medicine” program. This highly successful program allows cancer patients to express themselves and find inner peace and healing through art. The “Space Suit Art Project” galvanized multiple agencies with NASA wholeheartedly giving its support along with its science and engineering teams, and of course its astronauts.
NASA furnished the patterns and ILC did the manufacturing. SpaceX was kind enough to deliver the suit to the space station on one of its cargo vessels. Considering the magnitude and logistics of these large agencies working together, it is a testament to their dedication to the project that it happened at all.
As for Rubins, well long before she wore the suit in space both she and former astronaut turned artist Nicole Stott spent time with the children at the MD Anderson pediatric cancer ward. Together with other volunteers from NASA, they worked with children recovering from and living with pediatric cancer to create “COURAGE”.
“COURAGE” arrived aboard the Space Station July 20th, hopping a ride upon the SpaceX 9th Dragon Cargo Spacecraft, and speaking to the pediatric cancer kids via a NASA provided live video feed, Rubins told the children the following:
This project has really inspired me, and it was an amazing opportunity to get a chance to paint with you guys. I remember this suit when it was just a blank canvas and all of you guys painted on it.
MD Anderson has been experimenting with art therapy and who that therapy can benefit the behavioral and mental health of its patients. In an attempt to give patients a “sense of control” and to create a comfortable atmosphere in the hospital such programs have been successful in building a sense of community between patients and families.
Once Rubins and her spacesuit “COURAGE” return to Earth, the suit is to be put on display at NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s visitor center for the public to enjoy.