A feminine touch was needed to ensure that Neil Armstrong and his fellow moonwalkers could make their giant leap for mankind on the moon’s surface.
To be accurate, it took the touch of a few seamstresses from Playtex who used their detailed set of skills by manufacturing girdles for the women of America. The suits had to be flexible, resilient and able to withstand temperatures as high as 240 degrees Fahrenheit and as low as minus 280 degrees in shadow and at night.
NASA decided in a competition of manufacturers that the suit designed and sewn by the Playtex team provided the astronauts with the flexibility and strength necessary to explore the moon’s wild frontier.
The expert craftswomen who helped manufacture the state of the art suit? Just weeks before these women were sewing baby pants and girdles.
“They didn’t tell me a thing, they just brought me up here,” said Anna Lee Minner in an interview with CBS News. “… I went home on many a night and cried because I knew I couldn’t do it. I was scared. This was a person’s life this depended on.”
Minner was one of four who helped put together the suits. The others were Joanne Thompson, Lillie Elliott and Ruth Anna Ratledge.
The 21-layer suit had to be completely constructed by hand. Each seam and stitch was carefully measured to ensure the utmost accuracy in the hopes that their detailed efforts would help NASA avoid another disaster like the Apollo 1 capsule inferno that killed three astronauts.
Despite the immense pressure and extremely high stakes, the women were encouraged by the frequent presence of the astronauts themselves.
“We would have astronauts come in and thank us, and that was a real boost,” Thompson told CBS News. “It made a connection there that you didn’t forget.”
It was on July 20, 1969, the efforts of the women would be tested in the low-gravity environment of the moon.
“Once they started down the ladder, and he put his foot on the moon, that was a pinnacle of watching something that you’ve helped to do,” Elliott told CBS.
“Oh my, ‘I wonder if that’s gonna hold? Oh my, I wonder if this is gonna be alright. I hope that stitch didn’t pop,’” Elliot said of her worries when watching the lunar landing.
The partnership between NASA and the former undergarment maker remains to this day. The same division in Playtex that made the original suits has been spun off into an independent company, ILC Dover, that still manufactures NASA spacesuits today.