1. Code Names
Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit was given the code name Sirius, after the brightest star system in Earth’s night sky. Code names were assigned to each member of the Apollo astronaut candidate pool. This allowed NASA to begin ordering the construction of the Apollo spacesuits before they made the official announcement of who had been chosen to crew each mission.
2. Creating a Seal
How do you create an air-tight seal on a zipper? The zipper enclosures on Armstrong’s spacesuit actually consist of three layers. Two brass zippers sandwich a rubber layer: zipper, rubber, zipper. When pressurized from the inside of the spacesuit, the rubber expands and create a seal between the two zippers.
3. A Copper Problem
The zippers and synthetic rubber used on the Apollo spacesuits were only meant to have a shelf life of six months. As it was well-known at the time, the rubber used in creating the pressure layer of the suits reacted quite negatively to copper. The zippers on the suits were made of brass. Brass is a mixture of zinc and, you guessed it, copper.
Avoiding copper was especially important in creating the rubber. By accident, an engineer once dropped his copper-tipped pencil into a vat of rubber during processing. This small incident ruined the entire vat. From that day on, pencils were banned from the facility.
The rubber and zippers of the Armstrong suit are especially challenging to conserve because of this reason. The reaction between the copper and rubber cause both substances to degrade.
4. When Nature Calls
Both Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit and Alan Shepard’s Mercury spacesuit had ports built in to expel any … ahem … biological waste. Because Shepard’s flight was only meant to last 15 minutes his port was never utilized.
What wasn’t anticipated were launch delays and hours spent waiting on the launchpad. When nature called, Shepard was faced with two options: scrub the launch or urinate in his spacesuit. Take a guess at which option he chose.
5. Silver Spacesuits
We know that the exterior of Armstrong’s spacesuit was largely made of white beta cloth. In comparison, Shepard’s spacesuit looks like a futuristic dream in silver. The Mercury spacesuit, however, is made of aluminum coating adhered with adhesive to a green fabric. Over the years, the adhesive has begun to degrade and turn a dark red color. This can be seen in spots where the aluminum coating is flaking off—many mistake this for rust.
6. No Pin Left Behind
All spacesuits are x-rayed at least twice before adorning an astronaut. This is to make sure the seamstresses in charge of sewing the suits have not left any pins behind. The suits are x-rayed once at ILC Dover, a spacesuit manufacturer, and once by NASA.
7. Glue-Pot Ladies
Much attention is paid to the seamstresses of spacesuits, but the real unsung heroes in spacesuit construction were the “glue-pot ladies.” One of the most important pieces of a spacesuit is the pressure layer, which was glued together one rubber piece at a time. The women who did this work, and were aptly nicknamed, were appreciated dearly by the astronauts whose lives were truly in their hands.
8. Conserving Then and Now
It had always been rumored that shortly after the Apollo 11 splashdown that NASA consulted with textile conservators at the Smithsonian about how best to preserve and care for the Apollo spacesuits. Recently discovered documentation confirms this rumor. Even though the Moon landing was a current event at the time, NASA was thinking toward the future and how to preserve the legacy of the Apollo program.
Have any of your own fun facts, stories, or tidbits to share? Leave us a comment.
Cathleen Lewis is a curator in the Space History Department
Lisa Young is an objects conservator for the Museum
Jenny Arena is the digital content manager in the Web and New Media Department
There are only 3 days left to back the Museum’s #RebootTheSuit Kickstarter project. Help us tell the complete story of our journey to the Moon and consider becoming one of our more than 8,500 backers.
Claudia Alexander—Space Scientist
Claudia Alexander was perhaps not well-known to the general public, but within the space and science community she was a valued colleague and friend whose contribution to the field of space exploration was significant and lasting. Charles Elachi, the director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory where she worked said she, “had a special understanding of how scientific discovery affects us all and how our greatest achievements are the result of teamwork, which came easily to her.” She was the last project manager for the Galileo Mission to Jupiter, project manager for the U.S. involvement in the Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and a member of the Cassini Science Team.She authored or co-authored 14 scientific papers (and also wrote science fiction and children’s books on the side). Her work spanned the fields of planetary science, plasma physics, comet science, and geophysics. But beyond these efforts, she also worked to encourage and support STEM education programs and established a scholarship program at the University of Michigan.
Born in Canada, she was raised in California. Early on she was motivated by President Kennedy’s call to accomplish goals, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” She loved her profession and transmitted her enthusiasm and excitement to all her colleagues. It is clear from their many tributes that her legacy lives on, not just in the knowledge gained from her research and mission work, but in the hearts of all those she inspired.
Priscilla Strain is a program manager with the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies
We’ve received a few comments and questions about why our stretch goal for the Neil Armstrong #RebootTheSuit Kickstarter project is Alan Shepard’s Mercury Freedom 7 spacesuit. The short answer is that the two suits bracket the ideas and accomplishments of the Apollo space program. After the series of early Soviet firsts in space that included the first artificial satellite in space, the first animal in space, the first human (Yuri Gagarin) in space, and the first object to hit the Moon, President Kennedy went to his advisers to find out exactly what the United States could do to beat the Soviets once and for all. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) responded to the President’s request saying that given their existing knowledge and plans, and if they received adequate support, they could send a human being to the Moon by 1967. On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space during a 15-minute, suborbital flight. Twenty days later, President Kennedy stood before a joint session of Congress, urging them to commit to a lunar program that would land humans on the Moon by the end of the decade as a part of a package of technological endeavors that would mark the U.S. as the world leader.
The differences between Alan Shepard’s spacesuit and Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit indicate amazing advancements in suit technology that occurred within just six short years. In that time, spacesuit engineers went from a modified flight suit that was originally designed to operate in the upper layers of our atmosphere to a suit that performed as a custom-fit spacecraft that allowed humans to explore another world. Shepard’s spacesuit was based on the U.S. Navy’s Mark IV flight suit that B.F. Goodrich had made. At the time, the Navy had focused on flight suits for fighter pilots who might experience high gravitational forces during flight maneuvers. The suit was snug-fitting and would pressurize the lower body to avoid blood pooling in the pilot’s legs. The suit was adapted from its original cockpit design to one that would integrate into a spacecraft, the Mercury capsule. Engineers added additional buckles and pulleys to keep the suit in place for that one minute of microgravity that Shepard would experience during his flight. They added restraints to the shoulders so that the astronaut’s arms would not float uncontrolled while weightless. The gloves of the suit also feature fingertip flashlights so that the astronaut could focus a beam of light on any given point in the cockpit. Most obvious of all, a silver finish was applied to the Mark IV spacesuit to make it reflective and visible from a distance, less likely to absorb solar radiation beyond our atmosphere, and to distinguish it from other, more traditional, pilots’ flight suits.
In comparison, Shepard’s spacesuit and Armstrong’s spacesuit look very different. In many ways they are different, but the two also perform similar roles. Shepard’s suit was designed to operate inside a spacecraft and in the event of an emergency like depressurization, while Armstrong’s suit needed to perform as a personal, walking spacecraft. Armstrong’s suit incorporates all the features of the Shepard suit, but with added complexity. Like Shepard’s suit, Armstrong’s also had restraints that kept his arms from floating in weightlessness, but these were deeply embedded in the suit to both protect the restraints from the harsh atmosphere of space and to help prevent his suit from ballooning. Armstrong’s spacesuit also had an outer layer designed to reflect away solar radiation, but it was also designed to protect the astronaut from wide swings in temperature as well as be impenetrable to fast-moving space particles. And Armstrong’s suit was designed to function in not one, but three spacecraft: the Columbia command module, the Eagle lunar lander, and on its own with a personal life support system worn as a backpack on the surface of the Moon.
The Museum’s newest planned gallery, Destination Moon (scheduled to open in 2020), will present Alan Shepard’s Mercury spacesuit and Freedom 7 as artifacts of President Kennedy’s initiative to demonstrate that the United States was in fact more technically advanced than the USSR. Even though the country appeared to be months behind their Cold War competitor, the scientists, engineers, technicians, and politicians at the time had been confident that the country was capable of mobilizing for this challenge. Not only does the Shepard spacesuit illustrate that confidence, but it also represents the technological starting point at which the long-standing dreams of travelling to the Moon would become reality. In Destination Moon, and through these two spacesuits, the visitor will understand how the Moon race began and learn the way in which we went from Freedom 7 to Tranquility Base in just over eight years.
Cathleen Lewis is a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum
There are only seven days left to back the Museum’s #RebootTheSuit Kickstarter project. Help us tell the complete story of our journey to the Moon and consider becoming one of our more than 8,400 backers.
With just nine days left on the Museum’s Kickstarter campaign, #RebootTheSuit, we’ve been moved by the sheer number of people who have generously backed our mission to conserve, digitize, and display Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit. And now, you’re helping us go above and beyond to reach our stretch goal of doing the same for Alan Shepard’s Mercury spacesuit—both suits, along with many other artifacts, are slated for the future exhibition Destination Moon.
Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of this project—the things that have made all of us a little teary-eyed at times—has been seeing your comments, hearing your stories, and discovering through your words just how deeply the Apollo 11 story resonates. So instead of “talking” to you any longer, we wanted to share some of the comments we’ve received from the more than 8,000 backers of Reboot the Suit, so you can get a little teary-eyed with us.
One of my earliest memories is of watching the Moon landing on TV with my dad. I was barely four years old, so the whole thing really kind of went over my head. I do remember being upset that “Mr. Dressup” had been pre-empted. Also, I was fascinated by the fact that my dad was practically climbing into the TV, he was so excited! (He was a science teacher—genes that skipped me, sadly!) I learned that day, if people could walk on the Moon, anything was possible.
I clearly and vividly remember the Apollo 11 mission and the rest of the space program beginning with Mercury thanks to my mother’s keen interest in all things NASA. She would have been all over this. On what turned out to be her last birthday in August 2009, I sent her a 40th anniversary Moon landing coffee mug from the Kennedy Space Center. She was so thrilled. I made my donation to honor my mother’s memory. Thanks, Mom.
My memory of the event is probably no different than most. I remember it was kind of special to me because it was on and around my birthday. I remember that I bugged my parents for weeks before and after to buy gas at certain stations because they were giving away space-related toys and books, one book I still have. Times were pretty rough those years for us so these items were like gold to me. The one I loved the most was a cardboard cutout of the lunar module. I remember my mom and dad waking me up to watch the landing and Moon walk. Like a goofy kid, I had to have all my cool space stuff next to me while we watched. I remember most my dad’s eyes starting to well up when they walked on the Moon. It was a huge sense of pride for all of us. Those cheap and dinky toys were my prized possessions for a long time after.
I watched the first Moon landing as a kid, and I still tear up when I see it replayed. An incredible moment for humankind. I went out in the backyard and looked up at the Moon, as I’m sure many of us did, knowing that for the first time one of us was actually there. Glad to help out in a small way to preserve this suit.
My dad worked at ILC (International Latex Corp) outside Dover, Delaware. He worked as a metallurgist on designing the “lock-Lock” rings that double sealed the gloves and helmet to the suit. Until he passed away, he spoke of his work on this project with great reverence. He had lots of funny anecdotes about the design process, and somehow a large bolt of the outer white protective cloth found its way to our living room. My mom sewed it into a chair pad for her organ bench. (I’m guessing the statute of limitations has passed for “theft” of federal property by now … He swore it was scrap.) Hope this project gets funded. I would love to take the kids to see what “Grandpop” worked on.
S. Brian F.
I remember July 20, 1969, as if it was yesterday. After the landing I went outside and just looked up at the Moon in wonder. I am so proud to back this important project.
I turned 11 years old the day Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. I was (and still am) an avid fan of the space program … and I was pretty certain that NASA arranged the Apollo 11 Moon landing to coincide with my birthday! I can’t think of a more fitting way to celebrate my birthday today than to help “Reboot the Suit” for generations to come.
Some people look at the stars and see just stars. Other people look at the stars and see an adventure, a journey. Growing up my father brought me to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum a few times. My father was a huge aircraft and space buff. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s as a young boy he would often skip school to see the Mercury and Gemini launches. His mother (my grandmother) didn’t see the correlation between my father’s pseudo-compromised immune system and NASA’s launch calendar for quite some time. After she had realized the correlation it was too late, my father was already infatuated with space.
In turn, growing up I gained a true appreciation and admiration for aircraft and space just like my father. I remember vividly going to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum as a young boy with just my father… We walked the Museum together, running from one exhibit to the next in excitement and reading and discussing what we saw. My father would often quiz me to see what I knew. To his surprise, I was able to tell him a lot of information. We walked around that day for hours captivated by humankind’s accomplishments. This is one of my favorite memories I had with my father. He passed away almost eight years ago. I don’t know if this message will be read or even responded to, but I wanted to share it. I wish I could give more money. I will be counting the days down to when this new exhibit opens. Thanks for all your help and keep up the good work. Lasting memories are not only preserved in your Museum they are created.
Growing up in a small village in the Rhondda Valley in South Wales (UK), the moonshot was a thrilling part of my childhood, and I was (and still am) in awe of the Apollo 11 team. My fascination with space exploration continues to this day, and I am genuinely excited to be a part of this wonderful project. You never know, I may even get to see this iconic suit in the real world someday. Here’s to the explorers and visionaries of this world.
The day of the Moon landing, I called my sister … while they were starting to come down to the Moon’s surface. It was the only time I ever heard a telephone operator break character. As she put the call through, she said, “Are they down yet?” I said, “On their way,” and was then connected. Even though my sister was in a different state, we were watching the same thing on TV and we saw the Moon landing “together.” This is just one example of how everyone in the country was either watching, listening, or aware of the landing. It was a great day.
What an opportunity to contribute to a project that will preserve one of the most important artifacts in human history and help create a display that is sure to inspire others for generations to come. Thank you Smithsonian for making this a Kickstarter campaign and allowing us to contribute to something so monumental! I’m so honored to be able to be a part of this.
I’ve always been fascinated by space and did many school projects about the space program. So supporting this project was a no brainer! Someday I hope to go to the Smithsonian and see the suit that I helped restore!
I’m unemployed right now, but I feel it’s important to support the restoration of this international, cultural, and technological artifact. It may not be much in the grand scheme of things, but I’m proud to be able to help.
First, let’s talk about terminology. When we talk about putting on or taking off a spacesuit, we frequently use the terms “donning and doffing.” These are technical terms that are used to refer to the practice of putting on (donning) and taking off (doffing) protective gear, clothing, and uniforms. The normal use of these terms has historically been for legal purposes in the labor relations field, but in the last 50 years, they have fallen into use in the space community. The terms are jargon, and I try not to use them, but all should be aware that they are out there and exist. There are, however, technical terms that I do use. These terms define the components of a spacesuit and often refer to specialized and necessary concepts.
So how do you put on a spacesuit? Very carefully! Even in the case of custom-made suits from the Apollo era, astronauts had to practice putting on and removing spacesuits repeatedly to make it a smooth, effortless, and unsurprising enterprise. In the case of an emergency, Apollo astronauts would have only five minutes to get their suits on. That would require them to omit all the testing procedures that are part of the formal dressing. In preparing for flight, astronauts would go through the formal dressing process which would take much longer as each section is checked and rechecked to make certain that it functions as designed.
Step One: Where We All Start
Apollo astronauts first started by putting on highly absorbent underwear. They wore these under their suits in case there was an unanticipated bathroom accident. These heavy-duty, space boxer briefs would fill in for an emergency. In addition, they had a urine collection device. This was essentially a heavy, rubber condom attached to a long tube that emptied into a rubberized reservoir. Remember, that all astronauts at the time were men—they adopted technology that long-duration pilots had been using for years.
Step Two: Keeping Cool
The next layer was a liquid cooling garment (LCG). This is a water-cooled nylon undergarment that looked like long underwear with clear plastic tubes running through it. Attached to the LCG was a biobelt. Biobelts were constructed of a cotton duck base, a fabric similar to an artist’s canvas, with Teflon-coated, Beta-cloth pockets. Fitted into the pockets were tools that helped monitor the physiological functions of the astronaut including an electrocardiograph signal conditioner, an impedance pneumograph signal conditioner, and a current converter. All the electronic life support signals went through the biobelt. Each sensor had to be threaded through the pouches in the belt and then attached with snap fasteners to the liquid cooling garment.
Step Three: Suiting Up
At this point, the astronaut would be ready to put on the major piece of the spacesuit, the Integrated Thermal Micrometeoroid Garment (ITMG). The ITMG is the suit that included the pressure layer, the restraint layer, and the white thermal micrometeoroid layer along with the integrated boot. (Conservator Lisa Young will talk even more about spacesuit layers in an upcoming blog post.) Getting into the ITMG was no easy task. The astronaut would have to climb through a back zipper. The opening was a tight fit, and he would need to maneuver his shoulders and hips through the opening simultaneously in order to get his legs, arms, and head into the suit properly. Success was signaled by the feet being in place in the boots and the astronaut’s head popping through the neck ring.
Step Four: Getting Connected
With the IMTG on, the astronaut would then start to make the electronic and other connections between the Liquid Cooling Garment, biobelt, and the interior of the suit. After connections were completed, work to seal the suit would begin. The astronaut would zip up the pressure zipper with a long extension ribbon that would pull from the front of the crotch to the back of the neck.
Step Five: Accessorizing
Once the suit was on, the astronaut would add all the final components. Next to go on would be the Communications Carrier Assembly (CCA), also known as the “Snoopy cap” for its characteristic white and brown markings. The CCA held both a microphone and headset close to the astronaut’s head as he moved around. That, too, would connect to a plug within the main suit. Once that connection was made, all that was left was for the astronaut to put on gloves. These were Intravehicular (IV) gloves for launch that had black rubber hands and white wrists that connected to matching red or blue (right and left) aluminum connectors onto the ITMG at the wrists. A second pair of Extravehicular (EV) gloves were used on the surface of the Moon. These gloves had blue silicone fingertips, and the lower fingers and palms were covered in a woven stainless steel fabric, known as Chromel-R. Gauntlets on these gloves covered the wrist connects so that the metal would not heat and cool quickly.
Step Six: Headgear
The next thing that the astronauts would put on was a clear, polycarbonate, bubble, pressure helmet assembly that fastened to their neck ring and completed the seal for the Apollo spacesuit. While on the Moon, astronauts wore a Lunar Extravehicular Visor Assembly (LEVA) on top of the bubble helmet that acted as both an oversized set of sun goggles and protected the metal components around the neck from direct sunlight.
Step Seven: Necessary Baggage
The famous photograph of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins walking towards the Saturn V launch vehicle before launch shows them carrying small cases. These were ventilator cases that the astronauts used to maintain atmosphere and cooling while on Earth. Once in the command module, they would link to the spacecraft’s life support, receiving good air through the blue connects on their chest and expelling used air through the red ones.
Step Eight: Preparing for the Moon
Before going out onto the surface of the Moon, Armstrong and Aldrin put on their EV gloves, lunar overshoes, Portable Life Support System (PLSS), and Oxygen Purge System (OPS). The lunar overshoes had a similar design to the EV gloves, with blue silicone tread that left the iconic footprints on the Moon. The overshoes had the same stainless steel fabric to prevent against punctures along with layers of synthetic materials all topped with white betacloth to insulate against solar radiation. Unlike the gloves, however, the EV boots fitted on top of the integrated boots of the ITMG.
The PLSS was the main life support for the astronauts while exploring the surface of the Moon. It supplied oxygen, cool water, and communications. The OPS was an emergency oxygen supply that was mounted on top of the PLSS backpack that would allow the astronauts to get back to the lunar module and to the command module in case of an emergency. Inside the lunar module, the PLSS would not operate until it was in a vacuum. Astronauts remained connected to the module life support while they depressurize the lunar module and until the PLSS began to supply oxygen and cool water to them. That is why there are two sets of connectors on the front of the suit.
If these procedures sound easy to you, imagine that on the ground, the astronauts put on their suits and equipment with the assistance of technicians and it took them a little more than an hour. Now, imagine doing this inside the habitable volume of an Apollo spacecraft or a lunar module with one or two other humans alongside you trying to do the same thing.
Cathleen Lewis is a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum
Fun Fact: Alan Shepard’s Mercury MR-3 pressure suit looks much different than the Apollo spacesuits. This is because they are functionally, dramatically different. Eight years before Neil Armstrong made the first step on the Moon, Alan Shepard became the first American into space. Shepard’s suit had no liquid cooling layer, only air. Communications were integrated into his helmet, not the main suit. Essentially, Shepard put on a jumpsuit and helmet much in the same way pilots had been doing for decades before. This was okay because Shepard never needed to leave his spacecraft and in total spent approximately 15 minutes in space. There’s still time to help us reboot Shepard’s spacesuit. Learn about our Kickstarter project #RebootTheSuit.