ILC Dover, Apollo program recordsCreation: 1958-2017 Creation: undated
ILC Dover outfitted every astronaut in the Apollo program and continued to design and manufacture space suit components for the space shuttle missions and on the International Space Station. The ILC Dover Apollo program records consist primarily of files maintained by Jim McBarron (1938-2020) while he was lead suit engineer for NASA, overseeing ILC’s development of the space suits. Also included are many other files gathered from ILC Dover and from ILC Dover retirees who were employed by ILC Industries during the Apollo program.
- Creation: 1958-2017
- Creation: undated
- McBarron, James, II, 1938-2020 (Person)
16 Linear Feet
ILC Dover outfitted every astronaut in the Apollo program and continued to design and manufacture space suit components for the space shuttle missions and on the International Space Station. ILC Dover stems from a branch of the International Latex Corporation (ILC).
ILC began in 1932 in Rochester, New York, by Abram Spanel (1901-1985). It originally produced latex bathing caps, but expanded to include hot pads, bathroom slippers, aprons, and other items he could make using latex. In 1936, Spanel moved his growing operations to Dover, Delaware. There, he built a 100,000-square-foot building on ten acres, which would become known as Play-Tex Park, from the registered trade name Spanel used to market his products nationally. During World War II, Spanel and ILC began designing and producing rubber goods for the U.S. military. The move from consumer products laid the groundwork for the eventual founding of ILC’s Government and Industrial Products Division. Just after the war, in 1947, Spanel created the Playtex Division to continue with commercial products.
ILC’s Government and Industrial Products Division entered its prototype model SPD-117 space suit for the Mercury program contest in 1959. The suit was recognized for its advanced mobility but did not win. However, it put ILC on the map for future space suit development. George Durney (1923-1998) and Len Shepard (1926-1988), two ILC engineers, continued working on space suit designs.
In 1962, ILC entered its prototype model AX-1L suit for the Apollo contest and won. However, it had to work as a subcontractor to Hamilton Standard. From 1962 to 1965, it worked on prototype models A-1H to A-4H suits. NASA decided in 1964 to use David Clark Company suits on all Apollo missions up to the first lunar landing. These became known as the Block I missions and the Hamilton/ILC suits for Block II missions.
Hamilton Standard dropped ILC for nonperformance in February 1965. It cited issues such as cost overruns, delinquencies related to qualifying the suit to meet various mission requirements and poor reliability reports, delinquencies in hardware delivery, and details of the personnel clashes. NASA reopened the contest, assuming the competition would just be between Hamilton Standard and the David Clark Company. ILC convinced NASA to allow it to enter, but it had only six weeks to build a prototype for testing. In March 1965, ILC entered the contest and won with its model AX-5L suit. The contract ran until 1974, covering Apollo, Skylab, and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Program.
In 1966, ILC separated out the Government and Industrial Products Division from the rest of the company. The former division was incorporated as ILC Industries Inc. and continued to specialize in products for the government.
With the deadly Apollo 1 fire in January 1967, NASA decided to drop the Block I and II designations and entered a contract with ILC to design the suit for all future Apollo missions. This suit was designated the model A-7L and was used on Apollo 7 through 14. Throughout the rest of the year, ILC began improving its design – incorporating a high-temperature Beta cloth cover layer, increasing mobility, and fixing other problems. On September 12, 1968, ILC presented its new and improved suit concept to NASA in Houston. NASA accepted the suit, which became the model A-7LB and was used for Apollo 15 through 17.
In 1971, ILC Industries purchased Data Device Corporation of Bohemia, New York. Because of this addition, the original basis that formed ILC Industries became a division known as ILC Dover. With the conclusion of the American Soyuz Test Program in 1975, ILC Dover experienced a major reduction in the workforce and moved manufacturing exclusively to its Frederica facility. The Dover facility on Pear Street closed in 1975, with all operations moved to Frederica and a workforce numbering about twenty-five key employees.
ILC Dover was awarded the contract for the Space Shuttle space suit in 1977 as a subcontractor to Hamilton Standard. ILC Dover continued to work with NASA supporting the International Space Station through 2022 with contracts beyond this date. It was awarded contracts to develop, certify, and manufacture the airbag landing systems for the Mars Pathfinder mission and Mars Exploratory Rover (MER) missions.
Scope and Content
The ILC Dover Apollo program records consist primarily of files maintained by Jim McBarron (1938-2020) while he was lead suit engineer for NASA, overseeing ILC's development of the space suits. Also included are many other files gathered from ILC Dover and from ILC Dover retirees who ILC Industries employed during the Apollo program. ILC Dover made all the space suits for the Apollo program, with each astronaut being custom fitted for his suit. McBarron gathered much of his documentation, including status reports and correspondence between NASA and ILC, while overseeing the back and forth between NASA and ILC.
When McBarron retired from NASA in 1999, he worked at ILC as a space suit systems manager, reviewing advanced space suit technology requirements and design concepts for future manned space flight programs. NASA at the Johnson Space Center, where he had worked, contacted him to see if he wanted his old files. The files were shipped to ILC, where they remained after McBarron retired and moved back to Houston. Years later, McBarron's files were going to be thrown away to free up space in the warehouse. Bill Ayrey, an ILC space suit test engineer and company historian, saved the files from the dumpster, knowing they held valuable information that could not be found elsewhere.
Ayrey tried to bring order to the McBarron files while also merging together the ILC and ILC Industry retiree files. His order has been maintained with ILC history and reference files for his book, Lunar Outfitters, Making the Apollo Space Suit, put first. The files are generally arranged into three groups: development for specific programs, specific parts of the space suits, and Apollo missions. At the end are files that were originally in binders. The development for specific programs includes the A-7L and A-7LB space suit, Skylab, and Apollo/Soyuz test program (ASTP). The files pertaining to specific parts of the space suit include helmets, purge valve, pressure relief valve, boots, fecal management system, gloves, pressure drop, rubber problems, hardware, zipper closures, thermal micrometeoroid garment (TMG), suit materials, and liquid cooling garment. Finally, there are files related to Apollo missions 7 to 17.
Although there are files labeled as specific components of the space suit, other files will contain information related to the same part. For example, a researcher may find information about Beta cloth in files about boots, hardware, and garments. Additionally, a file on boots may also have information relating to the purge valve, depending on what ILC was working on and testing each week.
The material includes brochures, photographs, status reports, fitting notes, action items, minutes, memorandums, post-flight interviews, equipment lists, and a few test samples. The bulk of the materials dates from 1966 to 1968, when most of the work on the Apollo space suits was being done in preparation for landing on the moon in 1969.
No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.
Language of Materials
- ILC Dover, LP (Organization)
- United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Organization)
- Project Apollo (U.S.) (Organization)
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- ILC Dover, Apollo program records
- Ashley Williams
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