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Friday, June 21, 2024

Ski-Jacket Tech Is Going to the Moon

Brands love sending logos up into the sky and beyond. Billboards, blimps, skywriting, ballpark jumbotrons, space suits. It’s for the eyeballs, sure, but perhaps there’s something else at play, as if placement in the direction of the heavens might suggest divine endorsement.

Nah. It’s probably just for the eyeballs.

But a recent collaboration between Columbia Sportswear and Houston, Texas-based Intuitive Machines extends beyond typical logo shenanigans. Intuitive is one of a handful of private companies that have contracted with NASA under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. These firms will be delivering payload to the moon to support broader NASA research missions. The company’s lander, Nova-C, is slated to launch aboard the IM-I Mission in March. When that happens, Nova-C will be America’s first visit to the surface in more than 50 years.

But Columbia? For outdoor brands, there has always been a certain cachet to gear-testing in impossibly harsh conditions. For harsh, space is tough to beat, with temperatures ranging from -250 to +250 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s why Columbia wants you to know that its Omni-Heat Infinity tech, the same shimmery gold material lining the inside of ski jackets and other cold-weather gear, will be insulating Nova-C’s outer panels.

Initially inspired by space blankets, Omni-Heat Infinity was developed by textile chemistry expert Haskell Backham, who now serves as Columbia’s senior director of innovation. A few years ago, Intuitive reached out to Columbia in search of more typical sponsorship—give us money, we’ll send up your brand.

But overlapping interest in material science led to genuine collaboration. Intuitive’s thermal modeling “revealed that Omni-Heat Infinity provides a benefit for heat reflection when used as a panel covering, and that is where the technology will be used on the Nova-C,” says Josh Bluth, a senior mechanical engineer at Intuitive Machines.

Could the firm have found or developed a different material for this purpose, unrelated to an outdoor brand? Maybe. But it didn’t, so chalk one up for Columbia. Its material—and logo—will get prime billing in a location that’s hard to miss.

Update: November 11 at 5pm. An earlier version of this story misidentified the Intuitive Machines employee interviewed for this story. An update has corrected that error, and also added more detail about the parts of the lander where the Omni-Heat Infinity material will be applied.

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