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Blog 11 Mar 2019

Performance Apparel with Aerogel: a NASA Spin-Off

Written by Erika Robert
Nowadays sports apparel has reached uncomparable levels of technicity and quality, allowing humans to feel comfortable, reasonably warm and light to move easily in extreme environments, and that from footwear to outwear and for all kind of sports.

As an outdoor enthusiast I am myself the owner of technical sports clothing and footwear and am amazed how far technology has gone so you do not feel cold in the snow up in the mountains.

Outdoor industry partners such as the French brand Salomon developed footwear particularly suited for cold environments with aerogel providing enhanced thermal performance and resilience. Aerogel: what is it and where does it even come from?

Highly resilient outdoor clothing has evolved with history, and we can easily trace back this happy Everest climber to one of the events that made the climber's life today so much easier on the cold summit.

Fifty years ago on the 20th of July 1969 the man first landed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. The lunar environment is one of the most challenging with surface temperatures ranging between -150 to +150 °C, hard vacuum, exposure to cosmic and solar radiation, impacts by micrometeoroid particles travelling at high speeds. For that expedition lots of research was put from NASA into the development of the Apollo space suit (U.S patent US3751727A, filed in August 1968) with the first moon boots and gloves that provided protection against possible impacts and thermal conduction.

The Apollo 11 mission was a trigger for many spin offs companies partnering with NASA to work on the technology of future space expeditions.

In today’s Salomon boots we see how research has evolved. They contain aerogels. Aerogels were actually invented 80 years ago, so before the Apollo 11 mission. Extremely lightweight materials they are composed of silicone dioxide and 99.8% air providing the highest thermal insulation possible but they are also extremely fragile, so were at the time too hard to handle and expensive to manufacture.

The Apollo 11 mission was a trigger for many spin offs companies partnering with NASA to work on the technology of future space expeditions. Aspen was one of those and through the partnership developed a flexible aerogel concept that can be manufactured today into blankets, thin sheets, beads…

The three different lines of aerogel products Cryogel, Spaceloft and Pyrogel are trademarks of Aspen Aerogels Inc. They are used in a variety of items from building insulation to light weight and flexible insoles for Mt Everest climbers. Development of aerogel technology by NASA has led to several patents such as US9777126B2 for various applications.


This blog post is part of a series of 'Man on the Moon' articles to honour the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.