Rehousing the Cotton suit

cotton suit

Professor Cotton’s assistant dressing in the G suit, University of Sydney Archives

Over the last couple of weeks we have been rehousing the Cotton suit. Despite its name the suit is not made of cotton, but rubber. The object is 150 pieces and sections of prototypes of a aerodynamic anti-gravity (CAAG) suit designed by Professor Frank Stanley Cotton at the University of Sydney in the early 1940s. The suit is considered the precursor to partial pressure suits developed in the 1950s for use in space as these suits originated from American developments of Cotton's suit. The rubber pieces include shorts, leg sections, tubes and boots.

Rubber is inherently unstable and will degrade over time. We cannot stop this process, but we can slow the process down.

When deciding how to store the rubber pieces we needed to maintain the shape of the objects, isolate the pieces from each other, and absorb and neutralise the gases being given off.

The first step is to pad out the object to support its natural form, such a leg shape inside a boot. This also stops rubber touching rubber, and avoids the risk of the object sticking to itself. The stuffing is made from an inert polyethylene foam product. This foam is wrapped in silicon coated mylar. The individual object itself is then also wrapped in the mylar. This special type of mylar is used because it will not stick to the rubber.

Each piece is then placed inside a bag. Activated charcoal paper is placed inside the bag with the object to absorb the gases given off by the rubber as it degrades. And finally the bag is sealed using a heat sealer. The sealed bags will be placed in boxes and shelved in our temperature and humidity controlled store.

This was a fiddly time consuming project that used a lot of packing materials. However the effort and resources we put in now will ensure the long term preservation of an important and fascinating object.