For moonwalk's 50th, ILC unveils commercial spacesuit designs

It may have been a little early, but the employees at ILC Dover were celebrating Thursday afternoon.

It was called to observe the 50th anniversary of the July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 lunar landing. ILC made the spacesuits worn by Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins, suits for all Apollo flights and every American space mission since.

But the company’s workforce also learned of a new step in commercial space exploration and saw a singular honor bestowed on one of their own.

“We are on the precipice of launching our first commercially available spacesuits,” ILC CEO Fran DiNuzzo said.

One, dubbed Astro, will allow a space traveler to work outside their spacecraft.

The second, nicknamed Sol, is ILC’s first foray into suits for wear inside during launches, landings and possible abort situations, DiNuzzo said.

Designed and manufactured in-house, both are entirely an ILC Dover innovation, he said.

Representatives will demonstrate the suits before potential customers, including NASA, and showing them off to members of Congress, who decide the space agency’s funding, DiNuzzo said.

“We’re going to be able to have a great time showing the government, NASA and our customers what ILC is capable of doing,” he said.

A space industry pioneer

Later in the program, retired president and CEO Homer “Sonny” Reihm learned he was one of six 2019 inductees into the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame.

He was greeted with a standing ovation from current and former employees as Hall of Fame trustee Rachel Andrews broke the news.

“I am exceptionally honored,” Reihm told the group.

Describing himself as “a technical guy” instead of a flyer, he never considered himself a candidate, Reihm said.

Reihm joins the late George P. Durney, who is credited with creating the Apollo spacesuit, in the hall of fame. A Dover native, Durney was among the first group of aviation pioneers nominated for the honor in 2000.

Keynote speaker was retired astronaut Nicole Stott, a veteran of more than three months aboard the International Space Station.

During that time, Stott and another astronaut ventured outside for seven hours while wearing an ILC spacesuit.

She had a few minutes for contemplation during her spacewalk, quietly listening to the sound of air coursing through the suit and her crewmates talking over her headset, Stott said.

All of this was while the Earth going by below at a rate of five miles per second.

“It was so peaceful,” she said. “I never felt like I was moving.”

Stott was the first person to paint in space, using a set of watercolors she’d brought up with her, and since has founded the Space for Art Foundation.

The Foundation helps children around the world overcome challenges, including cancer, and explore and appreciate their roles as members of humanity through the use of art. It helped design four spacesuits adorned with art created by children in hospitals and schools. Three have flown aboard the ISS.

Students honored

Because ILC is a strong proponent of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, the company held a contest among Delaware school students as part of the Apollo anniversary.

First-place winners included Madison Williams of the Smyrna Middle School, Madison Gaworski of the Wilson Elementary School in Newark, and Ashley Konkle, Haasini Potluri and Ruth Donohue, all of Odyssey Charter School, Wilmington.

Projects included essays on how they’d go about colonizing the moon and creating time capsules that will be held until the first person walks on Mars, DiNuzzo said.