YKK zippers can be found all over the world, and they are a major part of a new spacesuit.
YKK USA, which has a large zipper manufacturing plant in Macon, has partnered with the David Clark Co. to provide zippers for The Boeing Co.’s new spacesuit, called CST-100 (Crew Space Transportation) Starliner spacesuit, according to a news release from YKK.
The Starliner, being developed in collaboration with NASA’s commercial crew program, is designed to carry seven passengers.
While the zippers for the spacesuit are now physically being made in Japan, Terry McCullough, senior product safety engineer at the Macon facility, was involved with the project along with Brian Kenny, director of sales at YKK’s Marietta facility.
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While YKK has made zippers that have been used on spacesuits before, the new spacesuit is more flexible and lighter weight, McCullough said Wednesday during a phone interview. The original airtight, watertight zipper was developed in the 1950s, although it’s been perfected since then, he said.
“David Clark (Co.) developed the suit around using our zipper in their suit, and they have years of experience with it,” said McCullough, who has worked for YKK in Macon for 23 years. He worked in research and development for about 15 years and the past eight years in development and marketing.
“The new spacesuits are approximately 40 percent lighter than previous spacesuits, provide crew members with better functionality, comfort and protection and provide greater pressurized mobility,” the release said.
“The Starliner spacesuit utilizes YKK’s Proseal (trademarked) watertight and airtight zipper for the suit’s main entry and for its hood-like soft helmet. The Proseal zipper is an integral part of the survival function of the suit and is capable of holding pressure in excess of 4 psi.”
The zipper on the helmet “allows the user to open the hood and fold it back when not needed,” the release said. “The airtight/watertight zipper functions as a seal, keeping air inside the suit if pressurized and preventing water from entering the suit if a water escape is necessary.”
A YKK zipper also is used as the main entry into the suit, and just like the hood closure, “the zipper’s function is to seal the suit, keeping air in and preventing water or toxic gases from entering the suit,” the release said.
Other standard YKK brand zippers are used in other areas of the suit, McCullough said. The zippers are the same as ones YKK makes for scuba divers. The company also makes zippers for firefighters and military uniforms.
“It’s a lot more than just a pair of jeans,” he said. “To be a part of that and see something launched like that … we are quite proud that that’s our product.”
McCullough said he likes to watch space launches and searches for YKK zippers.
“Anytime I see something I’m always looking for the zipper — the astronauts walking into the spacecraft or when they are being buckled in — I’m always watching to see where the zipper is,” he said.
The CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is being built to transport NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The spacecraft was supposed to transport astronauts for the first time this year, but Boeing announced last year that they wouldn’t fly on the vehicle until late 2018, according NASASpaceflight.com.
There are notable differences to the new spacesuit, “with zippers in the torso area (to) make it easier for astronauts to comfortably transition from sitting to standing,” according to the NASA Spaceflight website.
YKK, founded in Tokyo in 1934, has a network of 114 companies operating in 71 countries around the world. The company held its grand opening of the Macon facility on Ocmulgee East Industrial Park in October 1974.