Kari Love started out as a costumer for Broadway shows. One costume she built for Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark was even added to the collection at the Smithsonian this year! Now she’s working with Final Frontier Design on building the next great space suit for privatized space flight! That means if you ever take a vacation in space, she’s the one who’s making the suit you’ll be wearing. Since we love costumes and we love space, we had to learn more. Read on to hear about puppets, fire-repellents, and being a “math goddess.”
1. You went from building Broadway costumes to building space suits! That is so exciting. Where do you see the biggest connections between the two? The biggest differences?
The biggest connection is that someone gives you an exciting problem to solve, and you get to use everything you’ve built before and anything you can research to try to find the best solution. The biggest difference is the type of problem. In Broadway it is largely about looks, durability and fitting into the quick-change time. In spacesuits it is mostly about safety, mobility and weight.
2. How did you get involved with building space suits?
I wanted to write a puppet show about real life astronauts. For research I took an intro to spacesuits class with Ted and Nik, the owners of Final Frontier Design. They needed someone to join their team with a background in precision fabrication and pattern making, and I had those skills. I still haven’t written the puppet show, but maybe I’ll get back to it someday.
3. We love puppets! Keep us updated on that. What do you like about this new line of work?
I’ve always loved space, so this really challenges me to expand my knowledge in that area. Working at a small company means I get to wear many hats, and I am learning new things. A few examples are how to digitize patterns and how to use a laser cutter.
4. Laser cutter! Cool! So what’s an average day at your office like?
It often starts with a meeting with the two owners to discuss progress on current projects, problem identification, solution brainstorming, and future projects. Then I do prep work or training for freelancers and interns to help them more effectively work on their projects. Then it is either hands-on fabrication or pattern making. Right now I am working to improve the fit of our flame resistant outer garment.
5. Sounds awesome. Pavi, the main character on The Digits, is an earthling who loves math. Did you like math as a kid? Were you good at it?
I loved math as a kid, and probably annoyed some of my classmates by literally shouting, “I am a math goddess!” during class once. I should have been more humble, since after many years of not using math much in my previous job, I am terribly rusty now. I am trying to exercise the math parts of my brain again.
6. If only more young girls would believe they are math goddesses! How do you use math in your everyday work building space suits? Do you use it more or less than when you built Broadway costumes?
I use geometry and algebra for making pattern elements for the pressure garments. Circle equations with pi are quite handy for round parts. I also use percentages and fractions for scaling pieces. I use more math now, partially because it is in the language of my new office, but I did use a lot of multiplication for calculating tutu patterns!
7. The “One-Minute Long” song is exactly one minute long. How much space suit could you build in just one minute?
Barely enough to count! My best guess is 1/34,560.
8. If you could go into space in one of your suits, what would you be most excited about? What would you be nervous for?
I would be most excited to experience free fall (aka zero gravity) again. I was lucky enough to experience it once when I was a bridesmaid in the first zero gravity wedding, but it left me wanting more. I would be nervous about safety. Space is an extreme environment with inherent risk, but I think the risk is worth it and many smart people are working to make it safer.
9. Zero gravity wedding! That is too cool! For kids who might want to grow up and build space suits, what would you tell them? Any advice?
Start getting comfortable with working in iterations. When you start to build anything it will likely fall short of your vision at first. Knowing “failure” is part of the process and learning from each version leads to better creative problem solving and better final results. Failing productively and resilience are valuable skills.
When you meet someone who shares a passion for your topic, or even another unrelated project you think is interesting, be excited and ask good questions. Most projects are built by a team, so practicing enthusiastic and thoughtful interactions will help you find your teams.