The Apollo Education Experience Project

Apollo In-Flight Garment

Several months ago, I created a replica Apollo A7-L space suit to go along with the CM Project. I wanted to create a replica in-flight garment as well, but was too busy working on the CM itself to complete it. The “in-flight garment” is the name for the jacket and pants ensemble that the astronauts wore during the flight when not in their space suits. However, when MSU contacted me about re-creating some events from the Apollo 13 mission, I realized I needed to finish the garment in order to complete those scenes.

I had purchased a vintage nylon jacket to use as the base for the garment. While not identical to the in-flight garment jacket, it was close enough, and with some creative work would be even closer. I also purchased some matching rip-stop nylon and snaps for use in making various add-on pieces.

The first major alteration was the sleeves. The original jackets did not have elastic wristbands, but instead snap-fastened adjustment straps. I made some straps using the rip-stop nylon, and attached snaps to the ends. I removed the elastic from the sleeves, then sewed the straps onto the now-loose sleeves. I positioned the straps and snaps so that at least one snap could fasten comfortably around my wrist. While I was making straps, I also made one for the front of the jacket meant to retain the communications harness cable (the so-called “cobra-head” cable).

The partially-completed in-flight garment replica with wrist straps and snaps installed, as well as the communication harness retaining strap on the front of the jacket.
(Photo: The Apollo Education Experience Project)

Speaking of communications harness. it connected to another harness inside the garment that provided cabling for communication as well as the astronaut’s bio-med sensors. This connection was made through a small hole in the right side front of the jacket. I made a small square of nylon with a hole in it to serve as a reinforcement, then used it as a guide for cutting the hole in the jacket and sewed everything in place.

Two other openings in the jacket were used for cables that connected between the internal harness and either the “Snoopy hat” headset carrier or a Plantronics headset. These openings were on opposite sides of the garment, and covered with a small rectangle of fabric. I cut the openings as slits, folding the fabric back on itself for reinforcement, then sewed on coverings made from the rip-stop nylon. Another small strap/snap on the left collar was added for retaining the Plantronics cable when it was in use.

I created a couple of small pockets using the nylon, one for each sleeve, then sewed them into place. I had an extra U.S. flag patch left from making the space suit, and I sewed it in place on the left sleeve. At this point, the jacket was looking pretty authentic!

Replica in-flight garment jacket with all of the sewing completed.
(Photo: The Apollo Education Experience Project)

When I had made the space suit, I printed a number of additional iron-on transfers expecting to do a tribute to Apollo 13 when the time came, but between the construction delays and the pandemic, the Apollo 13 anniversary came and went without my being able to do much for it. Nevertheless, I had the transfers already made, so I made some more patches for the Apollo 13 mission patch, the NASA “meatball” logo, and the names of the Apollo 13 astronauts Lovell, Swigert, and Haise. I attached these to the jacket with Velcro so they could be removed and replaced with others if necessary.

The completed replica in-flight garment jacket, patched for Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert.
(Photo: The Apollo Education Experience Project)

At the time I purchased the jacket, I also purchased some long thermal underwear to serve as the constant-wear garment worn beneath both the in-flight garment and the space suit. Not only did this serve to as the constant-wear garment, but being white it also masked the fact that the jacket was somewhat translucent.

When the time came for MSU to shoot the interior scenes for their film, I donned the thermal underwear, the replica jacket, and some white pants (I haven’t re-created the other half of the in-flight garment yet). I added a genuine period Plantronics aviation headset of the type worn by the astronauts, feeding the cable through the opening and securing it with the collar strap. The finished effect looks very good.

The author wearing the replica in-flight garment on the day of filming with MSU.
(Photo: The Apollo Education Experience Project)

As it turns out, the fact that the name patch was secured with Velcro was very practical, because during filming I needed to portray all three of the Apollo 13 astronauts during different shots, changing the name between shots to the one needed for the upcoming one.

To make the final replica even more authentic, I will eventually add some adjustment straps similar to those on the sleeves to the bottom of the jacket, which will enable a snug fit at the waist. Also, I will attach small pieces of Velcro to the collar tabs to keep them secure in zero-G.

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