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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.

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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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29 thoughts on “Reboot the Suit: Neil Armstrong’s Spacesuit and Kickstarter

  1. The fact is that the Federal government owns the Armstrong suit. Yes, private funds are raised to support the Smithsonian but there is nothing stopping the U.S. government for paying every cent to preserve this essential artifact. Instead of a Kickstarter campaign in this situation, maybe offer naming rights: “The Jiffy Lube-Neil Armstrong Apollo 11 spacesuit.”

  2. So call me crazy, but isn’t that what our taxpayer dollars is going to? And what the hell is the Mercury capsule doing there? Armstrong flew Gemini and Apollo. So what is the money going to, a half million dollar glass case?!

  3. Yo propongo que se haga una fotografía reticular de todo el traje y se subaatw la ayuda de cada uno para financiar su conservación además me parece mal que se haga la conservación sin mi imo protectores bucales ya que las bacterias propias del ser humano aceleranladegeadacion y también hagan un estudio sonoro si sonoro para ver hasta que capa penetra un estudio de en que a influido las técnicas que se usaron y se comparen con los posteriores trajes

  4. Thanks for asking, Matt. Federal appropriations cover about 64% of our budget. Private philanthropy, like this Kickstarter project, help us bridge the gap. The budget covers costs for: research, materials, and tools for conservation work, construction of a custom-built mannequin to support the suit; state-of-the-art display case, 3D scanning and production of an online 3D model; a webcast educational program for middle school students; and a publication on the suit.

    The drawing you see on the Kickstarter page is an early rendering of the Destination Moon gallery with the goal of showing the maximum number of artifacts within one view. The Mercury capsule represents Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 capsule, and is a critical artifact in telling the story of our journey to the Moon.

  5. Thank you for your work Cathy! Have you gotten any input from surviving astronauts regarding this or other suits, such as Buzz Aldrin?

  6. I’m all for preservation but studying every fiber of the suit seems like over kill. I’m sure there are detailed scematics available on the construction of the suit, as well as the people who designed and built it are probably still alive. I would also hazard a guess that they would be willing and eager to share there story. This is research that could be done in days, studying the actual suit seems irrelevant. Hermetically sealed case with precise temperature controls and UV blocking glass and the suit will be preserved for hundreds of years.

  7. Hi Brent, We love when we get to pick the brains of astronauts! We’ve been lucky to work with astronauts, and those who make spacesuits, in the past. We’ll continue to include them throughout this process as their insights will be key.

  8. Bill, thank you for sharing. Conservation research takes time. All of our work to document the original creation of the suit, its use on the Moon, and then its time with NASA will help us monitor the suit in perpetuity and determine when we need to make adjustments to the environment so that it remains stable and preserved for future generations. This type of documentation is part of a systematic, state-of-the-art conservation process that has become standard in recent years.

    The timeline is also based on including the public in our conservation efforts and process. This is the Nation’s spacesuit and we want to be able to share what goes on behind the scenes. We hope this will help inspire and educate future generations about why we conserve museum objects; how involved the science is behind conservation; and how we make decisions about why and how we display complex and fragile objects.

    We hope to share more information about the conservation process in the future to help unravel that timeline a bit.

  9. William, We will certainly preserve the lunar dust as it’s found on the suit! It’s one of the reasons why the suit is so special! The key to preserving the Moon dust will be documenting its identity.

    You may be interested in a post that Lisa wrote earlier this year about finding Moon dust on Gene Cernan’s Oxygen Purge System cover: http://blog.nasm.si.edu/behind-the-scenes/opening-the-best-package/

  10. Pingback: Help save Neil Armstrong’s moon landing space suit | Your Personal Interior Designer

  11. I am so glad that you explained the plan. Now, well we’re at it, why not use the name I made up by combining letters from NASA and Apollo to form “NASAPOLIS!” I originally wanted NASA to use it to name the moon, but found most of NASA is happy with Luna or Moon. So, now I’m pleading with you to use the name somewhere because many people do like the name. It pays honor to NASA, Apollo and all who work to make us proud in our ventures into space and also the serendipitous things that were for their projects and have made all of our lives easier.

  12. Why are we just now getting around to making the spacesuit available for public viewing in such a “thorough” manner? And why didn’t Neil Armstrong make ANY public appearances of any significance in order to boost the visibility of this amazing achievement before he passed away? Seems like NASA and the Federal Government could/should have been on top of this years ago.

  13. Hi Roy, These are all great questions. Even in 2012, when Neil Armstrong passed away, the technology to document the spacesuit in the way we are now proposing was not at our disposal. With the rapid advancement in conservation technology we now have an unprecedented opportunity to preserve and document the suit in a way that wasn’t possible even just a few years ago. It’s also common, and best practice, in a Museum setting to rotate out fragile objects on display like textiles, or in our case spacesuits, to protect them from environmental damage. Neil Armstrong’s suit was taken off display in 2006 for this very reason and placed into our conservation facility. Really, it’s all about timing and now just happens to be the perfect time.

  14. in my opinion, you lost a lot of spacetweep goodwill piggybacking other projects on to #reboot the suit…i hope my donation only goes to mr. armstrong’s suit conservation…#shouldvewaitedawhile #gotgreedy

  15. Sorry to hear you’re disappointed, and we apologize for any confusion we may have caused by how we’ve talked about the Alan Shepard spacesuit. You are an incredible advocate for our mission, and we are fortunate to have your support for this project. Your donation definitely goes toward the conservation of Armstrong’s spacesuit. As people can only give once, any additional funds raised by new donors will go toward our first stretch goal, Shepard’s suit. We wanted all backers to know how additional funds raised beyond the original goal would be used.

  16. Dear National Air and Space Museum,

    I do not care if my meager $75 donation goes toward purchasing paper cups for the water cooler or chemicals for the process – It was a privilege to make even a small donation to this wonderful project. It would be wonderful to see the suit some day and if htis is what it takes to get the work done, then so be it.

    Best of luck on OUR endeavor!

    Dan

  17. Does the suit still smell of rotten eggs?The astronauts made that comment when they climbed back into the LM.

  18. From Lisa: We have heard that before, but generally the suits smell like deteriorating rubber. It’s a sweet smell, but definitely very distinctive.

  19. And another fun tidbit from curator Cathy Lewis: One’s sense of smell is compromised by the retention of fluids in the sinuses while in space. Notice how astronauts’ faces seem swollen? It’s another reason why astronauts often request spicy foods as well!

  20. Why aren’t people wearing any kind of mask when working on the suit? It seems that germs/bacteria could easily get on the suit and contribute to deterioration. Seems a bit obvious that masks should be worn and/gloves, too.

  21. The Emil Buehler Conservation Laboratory, where our conservators do most of their work, has adequate air exchange and provides a very stable, clean working environment. A mask would only keep out particulate matter, and for health and safety reasons our conservators do not where them while working on objects. For eight hours during a regular work day, a mask would limit their intake of oxygen.

  22. if that is truly the Neil Armstrong space suit, then what is up with those cowboy boots!?!

    There is no TREAD on the fake moon boots, and that picture that NASA has sold by the Billions that is supposed to be the “FIRST” footprint on the moon, reflects lots of TREADS on the alleged boot print! However, compare that “FIRST” footprint to the Suit that these liars want money to restore, and they are slick as cowboy boots!

    Who’s the liar? NASA or the Smithsonian?

  23. Hi Dee, Armstrong would have worn what’s called lunar overshoes over the boots that were integrated into the spacesuit (the ones without tread). The overshoes would have been worn only on the Moon and were constructed by the International Latex Corporation. They added additional layers of thermal protection against extreme temperatures and would have also protected against sharp rocks on the lunar surface. We just published a story about putting on all the different layers of a spacesuit that helps to explain this: http://blog.nasm.si.edu/space/how-to-put-on-a-spacesuit/

  24. I agree with Chris. I’m surprised that workers are not wearing masks while working on the suits.

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