Dave Graziosi, Principal Engineer at ILC Dover, has had people close to him who have suffered with cancer. He says that a very close friend had a daughter diagnosed at the age of two with neuroblastoma and watching the family struggle with a child with an illness that could end her life was devastating. He said that his friend’s daughter was successfully treated and is now a healthy, happy 20-year old. When NASA approached ILC Dover with an idea that would help children with cancer at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, he was immediately ready to help.
“The project was the idea of Ian Cion, director of the Arts and Medicine Program at MD Anderson as well as Nicole Scott, a retired astronaut who was the first person to paint in space,” Mr. Graziosi said. “The collaboration between them started the Space Suit Art Project in an effort to take the children’s mind off treatment and focus on something fun.”
ILC Dover, who makes the spacesuits worn by astronauts, created a canvas replica of two spacesuits as well as one made of Nomex materials used to make the jumpsuits astronauts wear. The suits were sent, in 600 pieces, to the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Children who were being treated at the center were allowed to paint on the different pieces before they were returned to ILC Dover in order to construct the suit. Mr. Graziosi said that once the suit was put together, a real space helmet and visor were added to make it look realistic.
The first suit, HOPE, was designed to represent the hope cancer patients and their families have as they go through treatment. The second suit, COURAGE, was designed to represent the courage it takes to be isolated from family and friends during treatment, much like astronauts are isolated during space explorations. The third suit, UNITY, is an international collaboration with patients in hospitals around the world providing artwork for the suit.
“COURAGE will be launched into space and taken to the International Space Station in the next few weeks,” Mr. Graziosi said. “This was the reason we made it of different materials as the canvas we used for the other suits was not suitable for space travel. Two of the three suits will be on display at the Space Center in Houston. When the third suit returns from space, it will also be displayed there. It is possible that the suits could be displayed in other places as well.”
When COURAGE is launched, Mr. Graziosi said that Jacob, a cancer patient who inspired the project, will be a VIP guest at the launch. Jacob, who has survived Ewing’s sarcoma twice, returned for treatment recently when his cancer recurred. He and his family have been invited to take private tours and attend the launch as the guests of NASA.
“Even though my cancer is back after I already survived it twice, working on this project makes the days go by faster and reminds me about the importance of hope,” Jacob said in a recent interview. “I’m excited to tell people that my art may go to space, and, one day, I hope to work with the space exploration vehicles at NASA.” Mr. Graziosi said that many of the cancer patients in the project have been given hope by the astronauts they have met and spoken with. Many of them now see a future in the space program and in science as they feel a connection with the astronauts that have been part of the project.
The MD Anderson Cancer Center is one of the most respected centers focused on cancer research, care, education and prevention. The late Beau Biden, Delaware’s Attorney General and the son of Vice-President Joe Biden, was treated for his brain cancer at the center before his death. The institution’s sole mission is to end cancer for patients and their families around the world.
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