As a child, Mark Zito was just as obsessed with outer space as he was with sewing clothes for his action figures. As an adult, he’s combining those two passions to upholster spaceships for NASA.
“I’ve always been a space fan since I was a kid. I had all different space ships and astronauts on my wall as a kid,” Zito, 58, told the Elmira Star Gazette. “I always wanted to be an astronaut. That didn’t work out. As a kid, I also sewed up clothing for my GI Joes and my sister’s Barbie dolls, using thread and needle.”
After finishing school, Zito relied on his sewing experience to pursue a career in upholstery.
In 1979, he went to work for a boat and canvas shop in Southport, New York. Four years later, he transitioned to cars and opened his own business, Elmira Auto Interiors, in the nearby town of Elmira.
Elmira Auto Interiors thrived for decades, but eventually business dried up. In search of new opportunities, he moved to Santa Barbara, California, where he took up work as an aviation upholsterer. The job led him around the country, trimming different types of aircraft.
Eventually, Zito ended up in Houston, Texas.
“Three months after being here, I got a call to work at an upholstery shop,” he said. “Then I met some guys who gave me the number of a guy who worked for NASA. I sent them a resume and thought nothing of it. A few months later, they called me up and said ‘We’ve got a job for you.'”
In March, Zito signed a contract with NASA to work at the Johnson Space Center designing and upholstering the passenger cabin of the Orion spacecraft, a multi-purpose crew vehicle intended to carry astronauts to destinations beyond the Earth’s orbit. NASA intends to use Orion to explore asteroids and even Mars.
Zito says he loves the job and hopes to spend a long time working for NASA. The opportunity provides him with a behind-the-scenes look at how the space agency operates, and he even gets to collaborate with astronauts. In fact, the above photo is of Zito (right) with astronaut Mike Gernheardt standing in front of a Mars Rover.
Reflecting on his career, Zito said: “This really brought together two of my passions, the space program and sewing.”
cesar chavez says
I’ve been sometimes wondering how and where the upholstery of spacecrafts is done?
Happy Mr. Zito who is doing this job!
I suppose these seats should be designed and performed following special specifications or are they done as a standard seat we already know?
It is noteworthy point out Mr. Zito is not only an upholsterer but a designer also!
Nice post, Nadeem, hopefully we could see one of these interiors soon on the Hog Ring!
Nadeem Muaddi says
Thanks Cesar. I’m not sure what the exact specifications are, but given the long list of safety code requirements for airplane upholstery, I bet it’s even more strict for spaceships. We’ll try to get a hold of Mark and find out!
cesar chavez says
It would be pretty interesting if you personally could interview this outstanding master trimmer.
Mark Zito says
Hi, just read this and right now relaxing in upstate NY. We all know how foam compresses when we vacuum it wrapped in plastic, allows us to stuff even yhr most difficult cushions. In a complete vacuum without the bag, foam completly disintegrates, all the molecules expand like a marshmallow in a microwave and explodes.
The project i am working on is a prototype. Its a mockup to building the real deal and at that time everything changes. I am using aircraft grade foams and vinyls along with sunbrella for the curyains. Go figure. It is an amazing gig, i cant say enough good things about it. Amazing.
Mark Zito says
I had to thank this guy in a forum due to his appreciation of my work, Mike Gernheart, astronaut hit, thank you for keeping me keeping on, I am able to continue on the project till mid December.
Yesterday I was told I’m finished due to funding on Friday the thirteen.
So real happy to be able to finish a project I have so much invested in , love and passion, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve never worked a day in my life since learning this trade. And that was 39 freaking years ago, and still feel the love of satisfaction with a job well done and cash is in hand , nothing better.