ILC Dover is a privately-owned manufacturing company which lives at One Moonwalker Road, Frederica, Delaware. They make spacesuits.

ILC has been putting US astronauts in space jammies since the Apollo program (that's 33 years). So far, in the whole history of manned spaceflight, there have only been about 80 spacewalks which required suits. Over the next four or five years, as we and Russia build the international space station, more than 150 walks are planned - and they all require pressurized pants.

So, over the past year, ILC has tripled its sewing work force. Which isn't so easy; their space station programs manager says, "You don't find people out on the street holding signs saying, 'Will sew spacesuit gloves for food.' "

The plant employs about 450 people; half do space-related work. They come from a wide variety of seamstressy backgrounds. Some used to make suitcases, some used to make wedding gowns. ILC's shuttle manufacturing trainer says the ones who have craft-related training, and those used to completing difficult and meticulous projects, do best.

The space suits are made up of modular arm, leg, and torso units in mix-and-match sizes. Custom-fitted boots and gloves are made using laser scans of plaster casts of space guys. On Earth, the suits weigh close to 300 pounds, but in space they ain't nothin.

Last year, the company had about $20 million in space-related sales. They also manufacture gas masks for the Army, air bags for landings of unmanned space vehicles, airship fabrics, and containment bags used in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Other products from their website:

  • Chemturion (TM): Your Suit of Armor in Hazardous Environments

  • Vapor Guard: The Ultimate in Odor Containment

  • The ILC Model 19 Cool Vest is a completely portable cooling garment worn to aid in maintaining worker comfort and safety in extremely warm environments for extended periods of time. Through the use of a centrifugal pump, chilled water is circulated throughout the series of passages within the vest. The unit is machine washable and costs $285. Suggested Applications: foundries, forgeries, theme park characters.

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