That time NASA hired a hat maker to make headgear for astronauts (1965)

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July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong prepares to don his helmet NASA

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So you work for the biggest space agency in the world — full of scientists and astronauts and engineers — but you have a down-to-earth kind of problem: who could make the perfect precision hats for the explorers to wear on their trip to the moon?

Back in the mid-1960s, the answer was to seek the expertise of someone a little further outside NASA: an American hat maker. 

One quick note: While these show examples of the type of headgear Anne Sary was creating, they are not necessarily her designs.

Space hats being made by lady milliner for trip to the moon (1965)

By Nancy Eaton – The Daily Mail (Hagerstown, Maryland) July 19, 1965

United States astronauts who go to the moon will wear headgear designed and produced by a ladies’ milliner.

Anne Sary, for 33 years the proprietor of a hat shop in Hartford, Connecticut, where her originals sell for $15 and up, has won a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) contract for the protective headgear to be worn by the Project Apollo astronauts under their bubble helmets.

Mrs Sary cannot say much about the headgear, or what it looks like, because “the Apollo program is all in the future.” But, she explains, it meets three basic NASA requirements: it’s comfortable, durable, and not too warm.

Space hats being made by lady milliner for trip to the moon 1965

About six millinery designers were asked to submit ideas, and Mrs Sary won.

“I’m just as proud as I can be that it was awarded to me,” she says. “It was lots of hard work while I was designing it.”

ALSO SEE: To the moon! 20 newspaper headlines from the Apollo 11 launch on July 16, 1969

That alone took six weeks, she says. And that was just a beginning.

“I thought all I’d have to do was design a helmet — a cap type thing that fastens under the chin,” she says. But after she sent in her prototype, back came “a sheaf of papers listing changes they needed.”

Astronaut Jim Lovell suits up for an extravehicular activity simulation for the Apollo 13 mission-gigapixel-width-1200px
During a training session at the Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 28, 1970, astronaut Jim Lovell suits up for an extravehicular activity simulation for the Apollo 13 mission. Credit: NASA

The specifications on headgear for astronauts

“NASA is terribly exacting,” she explains. For instance, NASA told her some of her stitches were off by a thousandth of an inch. She had measured with an ordinary tape measure.

“Good heavens, do you measure these things, with a micrometer?” Mrs Sary asked.

“As a matter of fact, we do,” NASA told her.

Mrs Sary works on the headgear herself in a locked room in her home. She says she makes them with a regular professional sewing machine, a “special machine,” and a lot of hand work.

At first, she used her son, Wilfrid, 16, as a model, but his head has not developed enough yet. So she asked NASA for a model, and received a “Yul Brynner” — a wooden block model of a man’s head.

MORE: How do astronauts go to the bathroom in space?


Astronaut Anders Adjusts Helmet During Suit Up For Apollo 8 Mission (1968).
Astronaut Anders Adjusts Helmet During Suit Up For Apollo 8 Mission (1968).

She works on the NASA contract only at night and on weekends, because during the day she has her millinery business to attend to. She says she stays up all night sometimes to get a model, finished.

“I have to have a model ready when they have a space suit ready.” she says.

Mrs. Sary, a native of Luton, Bedfordshire, England, a millinery center, worked’ in high fashion shops in Paris and Boston before coming to Hartford to establish her own shop.

She says she likes designing spacemen’s hats. “It’s a challenge to do something different. I’m quite elated that my creations may end up on the moon, and very, very proud.”

NOW SEE THIS: One small step: Everything that happened the day man first walked on the moon in 1969

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