Canadian knitter Emily Mooney makes socks for astronauts

AstroSocks by Emily Mooney and Blueberry Pie Studios How do astronauts keep their feet warm? That question may sound like the beginning of a joke, but it’s not, and (spoiler alert) we’ve got the answer: socks. But not just any socks–handknit socks made by knitters passionate about needle crafts and space travel.

Canadian knitter Emily Mooney has been coralling knitters to help make AstroSocks–bespoke socks for astronauts bound for the International Space Station. Here, she dishes on space-appropriate yarns, poems about socks, and exactly how many people it takes to knit a pair of very special socks.

 

How did you get involved in the AstroSocks project?
I got involved because of Twitter. I follow @NASA there, and one thing their social media folks do is invite people to NASA Tweetups (now called NASA Socials). I got lucky enough to stand behind the countdown clock at one of the last Space Shuttle launches. I watched people leave this little planet of ours. I also got pulled into a rapidly-growing and truly wonderful community of “spacetweeps.” Since seeing Discovery fly, I have felt that NASA gave me a gift of wonder and awe that I want to share as widely as possible.

When Penny Garner, another spacetweep and NASA Tweetup veteran, contacted me about her project, I was thrilled to get involved. I love the idea of taking something so mundane and everyday as socks, and turning them into a deeply human connection between Earth and space.

Why socks?
The project is to knit socks and not another type of garment because the ISS is fairly warm and astronauts don’t need toques or mitts or sweaters. Plus, socks! Pablo Neruda understood how great they are.

What kind of yarn do you use to make Astrosocks?
Yarn must be either cotton with 2% elastic (think Cascade Fixation) or 100% merino. Acrylic is right out because it combusts in pure oxygen.

For my pair I used a very basic sock pattern (I cast on 64 stitches, ribbed and then knit for a while, and then when I got to the heel I dug up the pattern for Plain Vanilla Socks by Keri McKiernan.

Catherine Goykhman with the AstroSocks

Catherine Goykhman with the AstroSocks

The yarn was very kindly donated by Catherine Goykhman of Blueberry Pie Studio. She ordered and custom-dyed some 100% merino especially for the project, and did the whole Astrosocks effort proud when she blogged about it and then talked it up on CBC Radio One’s “As It Happens.” Catherine and I have become friends because of all this, and it has been so great to have her involved.

In September, the Toronto Drunken Knitters got the socks started. That same weekend, the Kitchener-Waterloo Knitters’ Guild was gracious enough to offer me some room to set up camp and collect stitches at their annual Knitters’ Fair. Anne Blayney even made posters! My friend Joycelyn Poon shepherded the socks around another event. I also collected stitches at the The Purple Purl, EweKnit, and Lettuce Knit yarn shops here in Toronto, and Laura Chau did the same at a meeting of the Kitchener-Waterloo Knitter’s Guild. The North Kitsap Herald in Washington State reported on the initiative, too.

Volunteer knitter for Canadian AstroSocks project How do knitters get involved?
So far the project has been very impromptu. Penny made some socks, carrying them around and working on them everywhere. She explained the project to anyone who asked, and offered them the chance to add stitches. Her first pair had stitches from dozens of people. American astronaut Reid Wiseman inspired the whole idea when he posted a picture of his KMart socks to go into the ISS payload for his mission.

Now the project is growing rapidly; people are knitting pairs themselves, and sending them off. With the pair I just finished, I tried to do what Penny did: knitting much of a pair myself but collecting stitches from others as often as I could, just to get people involved. At least a hundred people worked on them, adding an average of 10 to 15 stitches each.

The project’s eventual goal is for the astronauts to have a bin of handknit socks to choose from when they pack for space. The Astrosocks group on Ravelry has details about how to contribute. (Ed note: You’ll need to create a Ravelry profile to see this page).

Who is the astronaut these socks are destined for, and when is the launch date?
They were knit with Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti in mind. She chose the colour and they are size 8.5 for her. She is to launch on a Russian Soyuz rocket in December of next year. She’s a fighter pilot and a captain in the Italian Air Force; she’s also the first woman from Italy to go to space. NASA has a hugely long lead time for their ISS payloads (figuring out carrying capacity for the shuttle), so if they don’t get there in time for her mission the socks will go to another astronaut who will fly later. (UPDATE: Emily recently received confirmation that the socks will indeed go into orbit with Cristoforetti next year.)

See more of Emily’s AstroSocks photos here, and follow @EmilyKnits on Twitter for updates on the galactic knitting project

Ready to make your own pair of AstroSocks? Check out our simple knitted sock pattern for beginners.

 

Photos by Emily Mooney and Laura Chau