I look forward to sharing some of my own artwork and the inspiration behind it as part of this blog series, but for this installment I would like to share a little bit about another AstroArts project I’m supporting. The project is called “Hope 1: The Space Suit Art Project”.

My guess is that anyone reading this blog will agree that spaceflight and all that goes along with it is inspirational. This inspiration presents itself in so many ways - inspiring children to pursue an education and careers in STEM fields, inspiring innovative research and technology developments, inspiring cooperation between countries and organizations that once were not so cooperative, inspiring us to work together to build and successfully operate the most complex spacecraft ever, and inspiring us to continue to challenge ourselves to work together to explore off our planet in order to improve life for everyone here on Earth.

Just as the view through a spacecraft window will always provide the fortunate viewer with some beautiful, unexpected surprise to see, it’s also really wonderful to witness the inspiration that spaceflight provides in very unexpected and surprising ways.

I consider myself blessed to have experienced the view through our spacecraft windows and all of the other amazing things that go along with flying in space, but in this post-flight stage of my life I’m feeling equally if not more blessed by the projects I now have the opportunity to support as a result of that spaceflight experience.

I believe that ‘The Space Suit Art Project’ is the most meaningful project I have ever supported. It is a beautiful combination of art, space, and kids painting space suits. A space-inspired art project that is raising awareness for childhood cancer, and creating hope, courage and unity.

While these words are simple, the impact of this project is anything but. This project has creatively and powerfully tied together the inspiration of space and art. It has brought people with very different experiences and challenges together and helped them quickly discover a common bond of inspiration. And has also effectively demonstrated the strength of the inspiration of space and art and their very positive, collective impact on healing.

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The Space Suit Art Project Patch

The artistic genius behind the Space Suit Art Project is artist Ian Cion who is also the director of the Arts in Medicine Program at the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Ian has been setting up art studios at MD Anderson and creating large scale art projects from the artwork of the community of children in treatment there for over 5 years now. A wonderful example of his work is “Okoa the Wave Rider”, a 20 ft long dragon sculpture created from over 1300 individual art pieces.

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“Okoa the Wave Rider” – Collaborative art project by children at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Center

Ian describes the inspiration for the Space Suit Art Project as simply that kids are inspired by space. His project idea became reality when he approached Gordon Andrews at the NASA Johnson Space Center and Gordon introduced him to Dave Graziosi at ILC Dover (company that has been building NASA space suits since the earliest programs) and they set off to build space suits to spec from the children’s artwork. Gordon, knowing that I had recently retired to pursue art and advocate for STEAM education, invited me to join the team, and I’m very thankful that he did. 


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(L) Gordon Andrews, Nicole Stott, Ian Cion, Dave Graziosi, Hope.
(R) Celebrating after a great day of painting at MD Anderson.

So far we have two suits completed. The first suit, Hope, is made from the artwork of over 500 patients and family members. It was quilted together by the ILC Dover team, it is stunningly beautiful, and was recently exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.


The second suit, Courage, is a flight suit version. We decided we would “reach for the stars” and see if we could get one of the suits actually flown to space, hence the idea for the more compact flight suit. We had several art studio sessions at MD Anderson with the kids, and Ian was also able to take the suit to rooms of some of the kids who weren’t well enough to come to the studios to paint. With the outstanding support of the ISS Program, the suit launched on SpaceX 9 to the ISS and will be worn on orbit by Kate Rubins during a live downlink with the kids in honor of September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Courage will return to us on a future SpaceX cargo vehicle.

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(L to R) Courage; Kate Rubins and David Olazaba make the first paintings on the Courage flight suit; Painting on Courage in the rooms at MD Anderson.

The third suit, Unity, is in the works. Ian and I just returned from a 10-day whirlwind world tour to collect the artwork for this suit. It will be another space suit like Hope, except this time it is modeled after the cooperation and relationships of the International Space Station program. We spent 2 days in each of the ISS partner HQ cities (Cologne, Germany; Moscow, Russia; Tokyo, Japan; and upcoming trip to Montreal, Canada) painting with children in treatment at the local hospitals and with astronauts and cosmonauts from the local area, and we were also able to spend time with some of the children and their families at the local space centers. ILC Dover will start work soon to quilt together Unity from all of the artwork we collected.

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(L) ESA Astronaut Frank DeWinne painting with children at the University Hospital Children’s Cancer Center, Cologne, Germany; (R)Quilted pieces of children’s artwork for the Unity suit.

We look forward to having all 3 suits completed and are planning to exhibit them, and to continue to raise awareness of childhood cancer and the tie between art, space, and healing. The first of these exhibits will be held in late January 2017 at Space Center Houston.

Follow the project at:
Twitter @spacesuitart Facebook /spacesuitproject/
Google + +spacesuitprojectorg


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