Astronauts of Last Halloween!

I love Halloween, it’s pretty much favorite holiday. Halloween has definitely become more fun once Pumpkin started getting into it too. For Halloween 2017, he wanted to be an astronaut. So, like any good millennial mom I trawled around Pinterest to find something special. The final costume consisted of three distinct parts: the helmet, the suit and the jet pack.

The Helmet

The helmet was the most difficult part. I was never super keen on paper maché as a kid, but figured maybe now it would be fun and different? Heh. I mostly drew from this wonderful tutorial on creating a paper maché space helmet with the assistance of a balloon. For the paper maché mixture, I used straight up PVA craft glue and water. I did not take many pictures of this process, but here we go:

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Paper maché balloons – future helmets, only a few panic attacks.

  1. Inflate balloon – ideally, you would measure the head of the helmet the balloon was made for and add maybe 3-5 inches to the diameter of the ballon before beginning. I did not do this and grossly over-estimated the size of the helmets.
  2. Rip up paper – a friend of mine who makes and sells piñatas does not recommend newspaper but rather brown craft paper! I used newspaper for our helmets.
  3. Mix about half and half glue and water – your mileage may vary.
  4. Place balloon in a pot or some such thing to stabilise it, dip paper in glue mix, run paper between two fingers to remove excess and smooth onto the balloon. Repeat until balloon is covered, except for the part at the bottom.
  5. Ideally, you would wait for the balloons to completely dry and repeat step four numerous times. I did not allow for enough drying time before Halloween and only really was able to do three rounds on the balloons. Mine were somewhat sturdy, but a lot more flexible than I had wanted. The harder you want your helmet, the more rounds of paper maché you should do, which means waiting for it to totally dry. We live in the UK, so this means a very long time. If I were to try this again, I would go for at least five rounds of paper mache – possibly six or seven, this time using craft paper instead of newspaper.
  6. Paint helmet – I used white acrylic paint. I am not a paint expert, I just stood in Hobbycraft for a long time trying to decide which paint would do the job for the best price. It worked pretty well!
  7. When the paint dries, pop balloon, gently pull out the rubber. You should have an exposed balloon at the bottom to make this part easy.
  8. Using your human, measure out a rectangular space where their face will go. I would recommend making this rectangle long horizontally with the short, vertical ends slightly curved outward for the best fit. Cut paper maché out along this outline.
  9. Using black duct (or Duck) tape, tape around edges at bottom of helmet and the open window. The tutorial linked above has lots of nifty ideas about screens and LED lights on the inside and painting the inside of the helmet, but I was a procrastinator and skipped that part. You could also consider painting NASA (or Rogue NASA) logos on your helmet too.

A couple tips looking back: If this is your chosen costume, start early, like before the first of October. The climate in the UK is so humid that it takes things an excruciatingly long time to dry! Pumpkin’s helmet turned out pretty good, and it is still lurking around his closet for playtime a year later, but it could have been better if I had started earlier. I do recommend using a heavier paper than newspaper in retrospect also.

The Space Suit

Luckily, the suit was not as difficult as the helmet and came together rather quickly. I used this tutorial to create his suit out of old sweatpants and an old hoodie. For an average sized four year old, I think I went through about one roll of silver Duck tape and four to five rolls of white? It is difficult to say, because I tried to make an adult size version as well.

  1. Flatten out the hoodie – I started with the inside of the hood. From the neck, I placed strips of silver tape running vertical to the head part. You have to be a bit careful not to let the fabric bunch and the hoodie is a good place to start to get the hang of this.
  2. Using the white Duck tape, repeat this process on the outside of the hood.
  3. Next, flip the hoodie over and from the bottom center to the neckline, place strips of white Duck tape until the entire back to the sleeves is covered. Repeat this process on the front.
  4. The arms are a little tricky, from the wrist to the shoulder, I placed vertical strips of white Duck tape along each arm, and below the arm from the hem of the sweat shirt to the arm pit.
  5. Outline the wrists with silver Duck tape (black works here also) and around the bottom hem. I also used a little piece of silver to make him a name-tag. For a bit of contrast, I lined the hoodie edges with black.
  6. Lay the trousers flat, and repeat the process. For the center/crotch area, I just used a couple shorter strips – one for the front, one for the back, and one for the crotch.  I left the waistband free of tape so it would not irritate Pumpkin’s tummy, and also the hoodie was long enough that it covered it anyway. Use silver/black trim for the ankles, or just find some boots and use those. Pumpkin’s favorite red wellies worked perfect.
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Fit for intergalactic adventures!

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Find a hoodie long enough to have a soft waist for your astronaut.

A couple tips – luckily this part did not take as long. The trickiest part was probably along the zipper – you have to really line up the tape just right. I tried to make an adult-sized version; however, I learned that you should always use a size bigger than what you normally wear because it is inevitable that the Duck tape process will make things shrink quite a bit. I could not get the pants on when I finished! Luckily, my hoodie worked out ok, and what really matters in the end is that Pumpkin looked fantastic. Also, Duck tape makes all sorts of fun coloured and patterned tapes! It is now my go-to tape for everything.

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Black leggings always save the day and are fab for space travel.

The jet pack

The jet pack was also quite easy to make and used a lot of recyclables, perhaps what the British call “junk modelling.” I was inspired by this tutorial. I used some thick black elastic, a small cardboard box, two two-litre empty soda bottles, glue, red, yellow and orange felt, silver Duck tape, and silver spray paint.

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Don’t forget to open a window, or be more sensible and spray paint outside!

  1. Using your silver Duck tape, tape soda bottles to cardboard box so they are side by side longways. A glue gun might work instead of Duck tape, but the PVC glue I used for the paper maché did not work and I had some left over.
  2. Spray box-bottle thing with silver spray paint and wait for it to dry.
  3. Cut out felt into flames – can be messy and abstract!
  4. Using that Duck tape, stick felt pieces to the openings of the soda bottles.
  5. Find your human, measure out elastic and tape (or glue) to back of the cardboard box so the whole thing can fit on their back like a rucksack/backpack.

Again, this one was pretty easy to assemble and thankfully used things that we had lying around our flat.

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Ready for action!

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Blast off!!!

Space...and Beyond!

Last, but not least, my partner did want to be left out. I bought him a black hoodie and matching sweat pants and got some planet and star wall stickers. Costume sorted!

Mr Outer Space

The great beyond..

One of the best parts about this costume is that it will keep your kids warm if it’s chilly out for trick or treating and Halloween parties.

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Ready to explore Halloween!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and found some outer-wordly inspiration for future Halloweens! Enjoy what I like to call the most wonderful time of the year!

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Movie diaries: First Man

Everyone’s favorite “Hey Girl” meme-dreamboat Ryan Gosling is transformed into the level-headed, anxiety resistant first human to step on the moon, Neil Armstrong, in the recently released film, First Man. 

Hey Girl

When I was about three years old, I told my mother that I was going to someday get into a space ship and go to the moon to wave back at her and then return home. Within the first minute of First Man I realized that this is a goal I will never accomplish. Why? Because going into space is probably one of the most stressful things a human can do and I think I would literally flip the eff out and explode into smithereens before catching a glimpse of the arc of the earth in the horizon! With the jostling, buzzing, beeping spacecraft and someone in my ear asking what was going on, I would totally lose it. That was the theme of the film – Armstrong’s ability to cope (or not cope) with stress. Apparently, there was so much literal shaking during filming that at one point Gosling received a minor concussion.

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Space exploration: Risky and stressful

First Man pairs Gosling agin with director Damien Chazelle who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning (and over-hyped) La La Land. To Chazelle’s credit, these are two very different films and I think First Man is the better of the two. Claire Foy was cast as Armstrong’s steady and supportive wife who had to frustratingly contend with raising children while her partner was extremely focused on his work getting into space.

There is a lot of a wonder and amazement concerning space travel, but what this film did extremely well is focus on some of the harsh realities involved in the mission to the moon. The experiments and simulations leading up to the journey often ended in repeated tragedy, which was perhaps exacerbated by the loss of Armstrong’s young daughter prior to his time at NASA. The film was shot beautifully and at times was jarring when the camera put you in the point of view of Armstrong.

Focus was a major theme of the film, the razor-like focus involved from not just Armstrong, but all of the scientists supporting the Gemini and Apollo missions in the backdrop of the late 1960s in the U.S. Usually, films from this era include a lot of popular music from the time, and I was pleasantly surprised with getting through a film about the sixties that did not include Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son. The only nod to current events outside the space race was the inclusion of a brief protest scene with Leon Bridges’ interpretation of Gil-Scott Heron’s Whitey on the MoonThe score of the film was composed by Justin Hurwitz was haunting and beautiful, crafting the anxiety, focus and splendor of what was one of humankind’s greatest accomplishments. The music is my favorite part about First Man, and when reflecting on similar films like Apollo 13 it is just such an artistic improvement.

Claire Foy gave a great performance as Janet, holding down the house back on earth and the reality of day to day life. Often, films about cultural or historic heroes paint the spouses as begrudging or nagging or albatrosses to the hero’s success; however, I think that Foy did a great job in portraying Janet Armstrong as the buttress to her husband’s work. Without her support and strength dealing with the emotionally unavailable Armstrong, perhaps a different person would have been the first human on the moon. She is not a victim; rather, she bears the same pressures and anxieties and the same strengths are required of her as they are the astronauts themselves. Arguably, being the wife of an astronaut during the age of space exploration was exceedingly difficult, and the film really hit home how emotionally detached Armstrong was, perhaps the key to handling the extreme stress of his work.

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The brilliant Claire Foy as Janet, Armstrong’s iron-willed wife

Armstrong is a really interesting hero, considering that unlike other public figures he shied away from the spotlight and very rarely discussed the moon landing later in his life. He explicitly did not want to be a “human memorial” and the few comments he did make about space exploration reflected a resentment about the lack of support for continued missions, muttering about out commitment to a manned mission to Mars. In a time when the political climate is exceedingly charged and it feels like scientific research is under constant attack from the majority part in the U.S., I can’t say I blame him. The tragedy of First Man is that it tells the story of perhaps the United States’ greatest accomplishment, which would not have been possible without government funding and support for research, development and education. Now NASA operates with a fraction of the workforce and budget it had during the 1960s. Needless to say, although there have been amazing initiatives that have brought us back beautiful images of the furthest extents of our solar system, it has been a long time since any humans have visited the moon and feels like the days of such exploration have stalled.

On the Moon

Humanity is capable of amazing things.

So, if you are into space and American (or world) history, I highly recommend First Man. In addition, Lukas Haas is in it as Mike Collins, the man who stayed on the craft orbiting the moon while Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took those first historic steps on the lunar surface.  I’m always pleased to see him, the kid from Witness, all grown up.

As an aside, the whole time I couldn’t help but think about John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962. There is a recording of him noticing what he described as “fireflies” following the Friendship 7 as he circumnavigated the planet – which many have interpreted as UFOs. I always found that story so fascinating and it’s a shame we don’t invest more. Glenn had more hope for our country than Armstrong, and died believing that future achievements like curing cancer and getting to Mars would unite us as a people.

Pluto

Pluto as recently photographed by the New Horizons probe.