AidSpace Blog

The New Air Show in Town: Aerobatic Flight!

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The Aerobatic Flight exhibition at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly, Virginia, has a new addition—a film entitled, naturally, Aerobatic Flight!All the excitement of multiple airshows is packed into this lively film through clips of current pilots on the airshow scene and footage of legendary pilots from the dawn of the airshow. Besides entertaining you, the film also explains exactly what aerobatic flight is: A departure from straight and level flight and flying unusual attitudes. Why would a pilot want to do that? Well, it teaches pilots to be comfortable in an airplane by understanding the aerodynamics of flight, thus making them better pilots and giving them the ability to react to an emergency situation. Pilots fly aerobatics for fun, in competition, and at airshows. It is not random stunting, but rather a disciplined sport.


An image from the Udvar-Hazy Center showing the Bücker Bu-133C Jungmeister upside down as it would have been during an aerobatic maneuver. To the right is the red, white, and blue de Havilland-Canada DHC-1A Chipmunk. Photo: Dane Penland

Although aerobatic maneuvers may look dangerous, they are actually precise figures that, like any other sport, take skill and practice to master. A pilot first learns three basic maneuvers: the roll, the loop, and the spin. From there he or she can move on to more difficult maneuvers and combine them into safe and stunning programs. Many maneuvers were pioneered in World War I by military pilots who first flew reconnaissance missions. They soon realized the potential of the aircraft for warfare and emerged as the first fighter pilots. An abrupt turn and climb or a dive either removed you from the sights of an attacking aircraft or set you up to fire on the enemy.


The Loudenslager Laser 200 in action!

Veteran cinematographer Mark Magin has shot thousands of hours of air show film and files, which he culled into this exciting piece. Archival film rounded out the history, highlighting some of the aerobatic planes at the Udvar-Hazy Center and the extraordinary pilots who flew them like: Leo Loudenslager’s Laser, Bob Hoover’s North American Shrike, Betty Skelton’s Pitts Little Stinker, Art Scholl’s deHavilland Chipmunk, and Bevo Howard’s Bὕcker Jungmeister. Top air show performer Sean D. Tucker and many others demonstrate the amazing ability of both pilots and planes. Narrator Patty Wagstaff knows something about the subject—she is a three-time national aerobatic champion, and the first female champion, whose Extra 260 is displayed at the Museum in Washington, DC. It’s all about the excitement of flying and airshows, while demonstrating the precision of aerobatic flight. I think you will agree when you visit the Udvar-Hazy Center to see both the exhibit and the film. Or you can watch the show right here. Then go out and join the more than 18 million people who will attend an airshow this year. Find one near you in the International Council of Air Shows list. Besides enjoying yourself, you’ll be supporting the men and women who present airshows as well as your local community. Or, learn to fly aerobatics yourself!

Dorothy Cochrane is a curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum. 


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Were You a Member of the “First Moon Flights” Club?

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A sample “First Moon Flights” Club card. Posted with permission from Air & Space magazine.

The Smithsonian would like to add to its national collection a Pan American Airways (Pan Am) “First Moon Flights” Club card as an example of early enthusiasm for space travel. When the renovated Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall is completed in July 2016, one of the artifacts that will be featured will be SpaceShipOne, winner of the Ansari X Prize in 2004 as the first privately developed, piloted spacecraft. But long before 2004, there were those who had hoped spaceflight could someday be accessed just by purchasing a ticket. If you own one of these cards, and it is in excellent condition, we invite you to fill out our object donation form.

Between 1968 and 1971, Pan Am issued over 93,000 “First Moon Flights” Club cards to space enthusiasts eager to make a reservation for the first commercial flight to the Moon. Issued at no cost, the membership cards were numbered according to priority. The Club originated from a waiting list that is said to have started in 1964, when Gerhard Pistor, an Austrian journalist, went to a Viennese travel agency requesting a flight to the Moon. The agency forwarded his request to Pan Am, which accepted the reservation two weeks later and replied that the first flight was expected to depart in 2000.

SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for repeated flights in a privately developed reusable spacecraft. It is currently on display in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. Photo: Dane Penland, Smithsonian Institution

Pan Am began actively promoting the waiting list on radio and TV spots after the successful missions of Apollo 8 in 1968 and Apollo 11 in 1969. The company also got a boost from the appearance of the fictional Pan Am Orion II space plane in Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). As excitement for the list grew, the Club was created to capitalize on its popularity. In a letter to its new members, Pan Am admitted that there were details to work out before the first flight could depart, and playfully warned, “Fares are not fully resolved, and may be out of this world.” The “First Moon Flights” Club eventually included members of every state in the U.S. and 90 countries including such geographically diverse areas as Ghana, Nicaragua, Iceland, New Zealand, Pakistan, and Ecuador. Famous members of the club included Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and Walter Cronkite.

Pan Am stopped accepting new members to the club in 1971 when financial troubles made it difficult for the company to keep up with new requests. As late as 1989, Pan Am insisted that it would eventually redeem the memberships, but the company declared bankruptcy in 1991, turning the membership cards into collector’s items. The “First Moon Flights” Club was never able to send any of its members to the Moon, but for many the desire to travel beyond Earth remained.

A radar image of the Moon collected using the Arecibo Observatory and Green Bank Telescope in 2015. Photo: Bruce Campbell, Smithsonian Institution

In recent years, new companies have taken up the challenge, working to make space travel safe and affordable for future tourists. To tell that story, the Museum is seeking to acquire by donation a well-preserved “First Moon Flights” Club membership card. One donated card will be chosen, and a photographic scan of that card will appear in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall on the label for SpaceShipOne. Paper artifacts become fragile with age and cannot be exhibited without risking the discoloration that comes from light exposure, so the card itself will be accessioned as an artifact into the Museum’s collection to ensure that it will remain preserved for future generations. This is a unique opportunity to make your name a part of the historical record at the Smithsonian Institution. Did you dream of flying into space with Pan Am? Let us know!

Tracee Haupt is an intern in the Space History Department. She will be graduating next year from McDaniel College with a B.A. in History and Art History.

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Houston We Don’t Have a Problem: #RebootTheSuit is Funded, Now What?

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The Smithsonian’s first-ever Kickstarter campaign to conserve, digitize, and display Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit was fully backed in just five days! So what’s next? For Armstrong’s spacesuit, the conservation team is ready to launch. Here’s some of what we will begin working on in the upcoming months and a description of the conservation process that will take place throughout the project.

Conservation 101:  The primary goal of any conservation project is to stabilize the object for the future so it will last for generations to come. Conservators have specialized training in order to make important decisions about the care of museum objects. These decisions are not made alone—in a large museum such as the National Air and Space Museum, we often work with a team of people including scientists, curators, and outside experts in the materials, technology, and engineering of objects.

Conservator and author, Lisa Young, and curator Cathleen Lewis examine the soles of Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 boots. Photo: Dane Penland, Smithsonian Institution

The first step of any conservation project, large or small, is to undertake a careful examination of the object. The purpose of “looking” at the object in a detailed way serves many purposes. It will familiarize us with the object, the materials it is made of, and what condition the materials are in. We will want to find out if the materials are stable or whether they show signs of breaking down. Another step is to research historical documents. By working with the curator, in this case Cathleen Lewis, we will also need to understand the history of the object and what details found on the object could be a result of its history, use, or even changes made during its manufacturing. The object is the primary document, and even though we have information on spacesuits in general, each object is unique and tells a different story.

During this initial examination, it is common to perform non-destructive testing, analysis, photography, and additional imaging of the object to gather and record as much information as possible. This portion of the project may take up to nine months and will allow us to develop a detailed condition map and collect data of the interior and exterior layers of the suit.

Lisa using a hand-held XRF (X-ray Florescence) to perform non-destructive elemental analysis of metal alloys. Similar examination and testing will be completed on the metals of the Armstrong spacesuit. Photo: Eric Long, Smithsonian Institution

When this portion of the project is complete the conservation team will put together a plan to treat the object and present this to the curator. Conservators use their knowledge of chemistry and materials to decide how best to keep the object from deteriorating in the future. These decisions can be challenging, particularly when you have an object, like Armstrong’s spacesuit, composed of over 24 materials, some of which are not visible! Active treatment can involve surface cleaning, conducting repairs, or applying treatments that slow the rate of deterioration. Often, we spend time testing similar materials and perfecting our methods before attempting any treatment on the real object. It is not uncommon to consult industry experts to rely on their skills for help. For this project, it will include the people and companies who all contributed to making the Apollo spacesuits in the 1960s.

A major part of any treatment plan involves determining the best environment in which to keep the object to slow down the aging of the materials. For the conservation work on Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit, the majority of the treatment timeline will be spent doing just this. Much of the intervention to stabilize this object for display will be controlling the display environment to ensure the long-term preservation of the spacesuit. Factors we will look at and test include temperature and relative humidity levels, light levels, ventilation, and minimizing physical stress to materials. Building a new state-of-the-art display case and testing the environment within the case will take almost a year to accomplish. Our goal is to replicate the ideal storage environment in a display case so we can make the suit available for every visitor. We need to make sure it is exactly right before we put the spacesuit in.

The mannequin that we will develop and build to support the suit will also provide an ideal environment for displaying the suit. The suit is currently stored separately from its gloves and helmet, lying down, but our goal is to display it fully assembled with a new system to support the gloves and helmet in close proximity to the suit. Once the suit is fully upright, the 3D scanning of the suit can take place. This is the main reason why the digitization portion of the project will not happen for another two years; the suit will need to be fully outfitted and supported in a vertical position in order for us to scan it and develop our online content.

In addition to all the work mentioned above, the conservation team will be providing updates, presenting professional papers, publishing a book, and participating in educational programs at our Museum and online. Our conservation team takes part in public outreach and educational projects to enhance the public’s understanding of what a museum conservator does and to introduce children and adults to a career in museums that they may not have been exposed to in all their years at school.

Lisa shows items from the collection not normally on view during one of the Museum’s Socials for the exhibition Suited for Space in 2014. Photo: Eric Long, Smithsonian Institution

The Kickstarter project has allowed us to spread the word about what a museum conservator does behind the scenes and how we preserve objects so they can be displayed for the public to see. And now, there’s a second opportunity to help us conserve, digitize, and display another very important spacesuit. On Friday, July 24, we reached our goal of $500,000 to do the work needed on Armstrong’s suit—thank you! With plenty of days left on our Kickstarter project, we’ve added the stretch goal to conserve, digitize, and display Alan Shepard’s Mercury MR-3 spacesuit. This is the same spacesuit Shepard wore to become the first American in space in 1961. Like the Armstrong suit, Shepard’s spacesuit is slated to appear in the Museum’s Destination Moon exhibition in 2020, and will help show the progression of spacesuit technology during our early days of spacefaring. To meet this stretch goal, we’re hoping to raise an additional $200,000 and hit that $700,000 mark.

As a conservator, being able to work on these spacesuits—artifacts that mean so much to so many people (see video below) and represent some of the most important events in American history—is the highlight of my career. Be sure to follow us on this journey and check back often for updates on our progress!

Now we have to get to work…

Lisa Young, Objects Conservator at the National Air and Space Museum

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A Triage Treatment for Apollo Biomedical Sensors

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Much like medical triage, conservation triage analyzes the risk posed to an object and the hazards associated with not taking immediate action. Triage conservators ask questions such as:

Can the object be handled safely by staff and researchers?
Will the degradation of the object continue if it is not treated immediately?
What treatment can we do, with the resources at hand, to keep this object stable as long as possible?

The Collections Care and Preservation Fund (CCPF) Triage Project at the National Air and Space Museum aims to stabilize artifacts as they are moved from the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility to environmentally-controlled storage at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The most common issues we deal with are corrosion, biological growth, structural instability, and hazardous materials like asbestos, cadmium, and lead. As an intern with the CCPF project, I am working with a team of conservators to examine, photo-document, and treat objects from our Aeronautics and Space History departments. One of most exciting objects entrusted to my care was a biomedical instrumentation harness from the Apollo program.

Biomedical instrumentation was developed by NASA during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs to monitor the health of astronauts in flight and training. You may remember the scene in Apollo 13 where the astronauts rip off their sensors, and Jim Lovell announces dramatically, “I’m sick and tired of the entire Western world knowing how my kidneys are functioning!” While Apollo biomedical sensors did not actually monitor kidney function, they did track the astronaut’s blood pressure, body temperature, and electrocardiogram and respiratory waveforms.

Before Treatment: The Apollo medical instrumentation harness came to the Udvar-Hazy Center taped to a piece of polystyrene with degrading plastics, iron, and aluminum corrosion, as well as structural issues.

To begin treatment, I examined the harness to see what it was made of and what main problems existed. I examined it under the microscope and used a portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometer (pXRF) to analyze its metal components. I determined that the object was made of polyvinylchloride (PVC), Neoprene, rubber, epoxy, Teflon, synthetic fabric, paper, nylon, Lycra, polyurethane foam, Velcro, copper alloy, anodized aluminum, adhesive, steel, and paint.

It came to the Museum’s Emil Buehler Conservation Laboratory adhered to a piece of polystyrene (Styrofoam) with double-sided tape. The primary goal of this treatment was to remove it from the polystyrene board safely and to build a custom tray so it could be safely handled and stored. It also had some other issues, including aluminum and iron corrosion, degradation of the PVC and rubber, and disintegration of the nylon textile.

My first step was to remove the object from the polystyrene using a scalpel. This was done very delicately as the plastics had become stiff and brittle over time—not to mention that I didn’t want to accidentally cut the object!

During Treatment: The author cutting the object from the polystyrene board with a scalpel.

During Treatment: After removal from the polystyrene board, this was what the backside looked like. The white bits are polystyrene still stuck to the object with the tape. Eek!

I then started the tricky job of removing the double-sided tape from the back of the object. The tape could be peeled off or cut off precisely, but it left behind a sticky mess. After testing a few different methods, I discovered that the remaining adhesive could be removed from the PVC by rubbing it with a crepe eraser—something that can be found in an art supply store. Who knew?!

The next step was to remove the loose iron and aluminum corrosion and coat these areas with acrylic resin or wax coating to protect them from future corrosion.

During Treatment: Applying a coating of acrylic resin to a cleaned area of aluminum corrosion.

Here are a few photos from my favorite areas before and after treatment of corrosion:

The signal conditioner for the microphone before and after treatment. The electronic parts in this signal conditioner are encapsulated in epoxy and covered with a thin anodized aluminum plate. This piece had both aluminum (white) and iron (orange) corrosion.

This connector, shown before and after treatment, was linked to a blood pressure cuff. It is made of anodized aluminum and had accelerated corrosion due to the off-gassing of the adjacent black polychloroprene tube.

With the majority of the treatment completed, the next major step was to build a custom tray so that the object could be handled in a way that is safe for it and for the handler. Since the plastics were becoming brittle, it was important to support them in a way that they would not crack and break as they were moved around.

Here is the full Apollo biomedical instrumentation harness after treatment. With this project under my belt, I am ready for my next triage patient!

After Treatment: The Apollo medical instrumentation harness in its custom-built tray.

A special thanks to my conservation supervisor Lisa Young, curator Jennifer Levasseur, and the entire CCPF team.

Jacqueline Riddle is a Museum conservation intern, who is working toward her Masters of Science in Conservation Studies at UCL Qatar.

This project is sponsored by the Smithsonian’s Collections Care and Preservation Fund (CCPF), and administered by the National Collections Program and the Smithsonian’s Collections Advisory Committee.

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Reboot the Suit: Neil Armstrong’s Spacesuit and Kickstarter

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Today is a rather big day for the Museum. Not only are we celebrating the 46th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, but we are also celebrating the launch of something quite new. Today, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum has embarked on its very first project through Kickstarter, a global platform that helps bring creative projects to life.

Why? It’s simple. We want to conserve, digitize, and display Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit in time for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing. This will be the first time the suit is displayed publicly since 2006.

To shed some light on this project, curator Cathy Lewis has agreed to answer all of our burning questions. Cathy, who has worked with the Museum’s spacesuits since 2009, along with conservator Lisa Young, will lead the charge in conserving Armstrong’s suit. In future posts, Lisa will share insights into the conservation process, but to get us started Cathy shares some basics on the Museum’s Kickstarter project, #RebootTheSuit.

Q: What does the Museum plan to do with Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit?

A: We are going to carefully document the suit through photographic, chemical, and historical research in a more detailed way than we have ever been able to do before. We plan to use state-of-the-art techniques in 3D scanning, photogrammetry, chemical analysis, CT scanning, and other means available to create a detailed map of the suit that will document its condition in the most complete way possible. We will supplement this information with detailed historical research on how the suit and its components were made, used during the mission, and handled after flight. This research will inform a condition assessment that will help us create the appropriate atmosphere environment for public display while preserving the suit in its current condition.

Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit worn during a 2 hour, 31 minute, and 40 second EVA (extra-vehicular activity) on the Moon in 1969. Photo: Eric Long | NASM2012-01664

Q: Why is this work necessary?

A: Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit was made for the very specific purpose of preserving human life in the harsh conditions of space and the surface of the Moon for a very brief period of time. The spacesuit was constructed from a combination of 12 synthetic materials with as many as 21 layers. These materials have a half-life of approximately 50 years and have begun the inevitable process of degrading. Some of the materials have begun to interact with others.

What’s more, many of the layers of Armstrong’s spacesuit have remained unseen for decades, which means we have been unable to monitor their condition. Now, with advances in conservation and imaging technology, we can document and monitor the suit’s condition inside and out.

Q: If funded, the project won’t be complete until 2019. Why will this take so long?

A: Museum conservation and historical research are deliberately slow activities. We only have one opportunity to get this right. Every single movement of the suit, activity, and treatment will be diligently researched and rehearsed in advance. This work will require the advice of experts nationwide, including those who contributed to making the suit and its materials, those who cared for it during the Apollo program, as well as materials experts throughout the world. Research, meetings, and mastering new techniques take time. There is only one Neil Armstrong spacesuit.

Q: Will the suit look any different when it is done?

A: No. The suit will look the same to the untrained eye. However, thanks to the information that will be gained from this project, we will have the opportunity to share a far more informed and holistic view of how the suit was worn and used. Everything that we discover will be made available to the public and will help us collectively see this historic artifact with new eyes.

A close-up of Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit, a model A7L suit that was tailored specifically for him.Photo: Mark Avino | NASM2008-9204

Q: Why can’t the Smithsonian pay for this project on its own?

Federal appropriations cover approximately 64 cents of every dollar needed by the Smithsonian. Private philanthropy, including this Kickstarter campaign, help to bridge the gap between the Federal resources the Smithsonian receives and what it needs to carry out innovative research, digitize its collections, open exhibitions, and expand educational outreach. In short, you play a vital role in helping us achieve our goals.

Q: If this project isn’t fully backed, what will happen to the suit?

A: Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit is currently stored in a state-of-the art facility with strict climate controls. We have determined that these storage conditions will keep the suit stable for many, many years. If the project is not funded, the suit will remain safe in its current storage. Funding will still need to be found elsewhere in order to conserve and publicly display the suit, but it is unlikely that would happen in time for the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing, an event that is sure to be recognized around the world.


Conservator Lisa Young works on the Armstrong suit. Photo: Dane Penland

Have more questions about the Museum’s Kickstarter project #RebootTheSuit? Leave us a comment and Cathy (or Lisa, or I) will respond! You can also learn more at our Kickstarter project page, which also happens to be the place where you can back the project. We hope you’ll join us in this exciting new adventure, whether you back or simply help us spread the word.

Jenny Arena is the digital content manager in the Museum’s Web and New Media Department. Working on the conservation and display of Neil Armstrong’s suit is Cathleen Lewis, curator in the Space History Department and conservator Lisa Young at the National Air and Space Museum.

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