March 1959 saw the launch of one of history’s most iconic toys, the Barbie doll. She hit the scene at the American Toy Fair in New York City, wearing a stylish black-and-white striped bathing suit with a sassy blond ponytail and scarlet lipstick. At a mere 11 inches tall, she became the first mass-produced toy in the United States with adult features. (Move over, G.I. Joe!)
Little-known facts about Barbie include her full name, Barbara Millicent Roberts, and her initial role as a risqué souvenir sold at tobacco shops in Europe. Back then, she went by Bild Lilli, the name of a German comic-strip character. After Mattel purchased rights to the so-called “Lilli doll,” they repurposed her image, transforming her into an enduring cultural phenomenon. Over the years, Barbie has boasted more than 200 careers, including astronaut.
Moreover, she continues to assist the space program, having just participated in a cutting-edge moondust experiment.
To the Moon and Beyond
Neil Armstrong may have taken one small step for mankind on July 20, 1969. But four years before Apollo 11, Barbie already rocked a full moonwalk outfit, diving full tilt into space exploration before it was cool. She even wore a racy bob, giving Doris Day a run for her money.
Barbie also always keeps her a JOB. To this day, Ms. Barbara has continued to re-invent herself through 200 different careers. In fact, she reportedly [re: allegedly] traveled into space in 1965, four years before man walked on the moon. pic.twitter.com/AX6lmJPttg
— Clarkisha Kent (@IWriteAllDay_) February 7, 2023
Other jobs the doll has “worked” include computer engineer, rock star, and just about everything in between. Moreover, she’s acted as a muse for iconic legends ranging from Bob Mackie to Andy Warhol. And despite being 64 years old, she appears to show no signs of slowing down (or aging).
In fact, scientists recently announced Barbie’s help in a vital space travel experiment. After donning an astronaut suit, the effervescent beauty got showered with fake moondust (volcanic ash from the Mount Saint Helens eruption of 1980). Next, they blasted her with liquid nitrogen and measured the results.
Spacesuit-Clad Barbie to the Rescue
What did they find? Scientists happily reported that the liquid nitrogen shower removed approximately 98 percent of the offensive powder (a.k.a. “moondust”) from her suit. (Researchers substituted volcanic ash for moondust because it’s illegal to buy or sell the real substance.)
Why so much concern about moondust on suits? Because it represents more than a nuisance for NASA dry cleaners. Moondust is toxic to human cells and can lead to what’s known as “lunar hay fever,” a condition characterized by sneezing, sore throats, and watery eyes. Not symptoms you want to deal with during interstellar travel. But the impacts of moondust don’t end there.
Ian Wells of Washington State University (WSU) explains, “Moondust … is abrasive, electrostatically charged, and … gets everywhere.” Besides being an utter nuisance, it comes with serious dangers, rendering “the seals of spacesuits … unusable since too much dust causes them to not seal properly.” And if that isn’t enough, it also wreaks havoc on human lungs. Kind of like breathing in ground-up fiber glass. Yikes!
Historically, Apollo astronauts who participated in moonwalks brushed themselves down before taking off their suits to remove space dirt. But the sticky, electrostatically charged stuff can be like trying to clean up a box of packing peanuts. No fun. The brushes also damage space suits over time, degrading their wearability. Fortunately, Barbie recently proved, there’s a better way.
Say Hello to Liquid Nitrogen
Getting blasted with liquid nitrogen isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Fortunately, Barbie’s no ordinary lady. Jacob Leachman of WSU describes it this way, “When liquid nitrogen boils, it expands 800 times and it’s almost like a little explosion when it hits the surface of a hot material. Because it’s exploding and expanding so much, it can push [moondust] particles far away from the surface.”
Despite the explosive nature of liquid nitrogen, the leggy doll came through the cryogenic fluid experiment no worse for wear. Her Kevlar suit also showed minimal damage, a vast improvement over the old brush and dust system. In other words, cleaning moondust off space suits just got a whole lot easier.
As for why they chose Barbie? Beyond her stylish longevity, movie starring Margot Robbie, and groundbreaking career choices, Barbie remains a potent icon. In terms of the Artemis missions, researchers see her as a symbol of the gender and racial diversity they want to see in space travel moving forward… with as little moondust as possible.
By Engrid Barnett, contributor for Ripleys.com