Ted Southern started his career making wings for some of the most beautiful women in the world; his work became the signature of the Victoria's Secret clothing line. Now he's shooting for the stars with his new designs, working with NASA to create new-age spacesuits, reports CBS News' Vinita Nair.
Southern is not an engineer or a scientist. He is an artist. "My career has been all over the place," he said.
Southern studied music performance in college, and sculpture at the Pratt institute in Brooklyn. While there, he worked for costumer Martin Izquierdo.
One of his first jobs was making those famous angel wings for Victoria's Secret.
"Some of the most satisfying costumes I found were from opera," Southern said. "We'd do Broadway shows, we'd do movies, theater, a whole range of things."
He's still making costumes for the stage out of his studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. "We have a 10-year contract with Cirque Du Soleil making wolves for their show in Las Vegas, in the Michael Jackson show," he said.
His interest in space started in grad school. Southern was designing gloves for his master's thesis when he read about a NASA competition to redesign astronaut's gloves in Popular Science.
He said he had no idea what he was doing when he designed that first glove.
Southern lost the competition, but met Nikolay Moiseev, an engineer and fellow competitor from Russia. They teamed up, and two years later their unique single-layer glove earned them second place, and a $100,000 prize.
NASA encouraged the odd couple to continue their work. Moiseev moved to the U.S., and they formed Final Frontier Design.
"I give Nick a lot of credit for pushing us into expanding beyond just the glove," said Southern, "because we recognized that we could become government contractors and work for NASA. But there's also a whole new space industry growing up. You see it with Virgin Galactic and Space X -- there's actually a whole rather deep group of international companies that are interested in flying at higher altitudes, building rockets themselves and even going orbital."
Just this month, Final Frontier Designs received a $125,000 grant to make gloves for future missions to Mars.
Southern says, however, that there is still a lot of reluctance to try something new: "NASA is very risk-adverse, and it's hard to convince big companies like Boeing that a couple guys in a garage can make something that can compete or is even better than what's already available."