A Shark on the Moon

The spacesuit used for the Apollo missions was made by International Latex Corp. However, some of the earlier development of the suit for Apollo was done by my former employer, Hamilton Standard. Many design problems were very difficult to overcome. On the low end of the design spectrum, the Apollo spacesuit had a seemingly very small problem. It was difficult to grasp objects with the gloves of the suit. It was also reported that it was difficult to let things go once they are gripped.  The gripping problem needed a solution.

What the gloves were missing was fingerprints.  I don’t know who came up with the idea, but someone pointed out that real sharkskin had a knapp to it.  It would grip in one direction and not in the other. That would have been ideal for fingerprints, if only we could have found sharkskin in the Yellow Pages.

So one day, a Hamilton Standard purchasing agent called up two brothers who were shark hunters in Mobile, Alabama. I knew the purchasing agent, but have forgotten his name. So, we’ll call him Frank, and we’ll call the shark hunter who answers the phone, Bob. The phone call, as it was told to me, went something like the following, including the last line:

Frank: Hello, I’m a purchasing agent for the Hamilton Standard Division of United Aircraft Corporation in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. I would like to purchase some sharkskin.

On hearing this, Bob almost hung up, but instead he went along with it.

Bob: What do want sharkskin for?

Frank: We need it to use as fingerprints on the gloves of the astronauts that are going to the Moon.

The temptation to hang up became even stronger.

Bob: How much do you need?

Frank: Two square feet.

At this point there as a long pause. Finally, Bob replied.

Bob: You know, sharks don’t come square!


‘Tis true!  Sharkskin was used.  If you want some verification, go to:  http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/aroundthemall/2009/02/air-and-space-museum-the-spacesuit-morgue/

I would like to include a picture, but so far, I have not found one to show you.