Following months of preparation, members of the Collections Processing Unit moved the center section of the Horten Ho 229 V3* from the Paul E. Garber Restoration and Storage Facility to the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center last Friday.
Work to conserve the center section has temporarily stopped while conservation staff shifts their attentions to other artifacts such as the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall in the Museum in Washington D. C. The Milestones gallery is undergoing a major renovation that is scheduled to be finished next year.
*Readers will note a change in the aircraft designation from H IX V3 in earlier blog posts to Ho 229 V3. After much thought and consultation with other curators and historians, I decided to change the nomenclature to more accurately reflect the official status of the aircraft during World War II. Reimar Horten privately used roman numerals to identify his various designs, hence H IX correctly identifies the all-wing jet project. After Hermann Göring approved building the V1 (prototype 1) glider prototype around August 1943, the project gained official status. The Reichs Luftfahrtministerium (German Air Ministry) used a numbering system to abbreviate the names of all aircraft manufacturers. Horten received the number ‘229,’ hence the RLM designated the glider prototype Ho 229 V1. The ministry designated prototype 2, which flew twice before crashing, the Ho 229 V2, and they assigned the designation Ho 229 V3 to the Museum’s artifact. Although variations in this terminology can be found in official documents from the period, I believe that Ho 229 V3 works best.
Russ Lee is a curator in the Aeronautics Department at the National Air and Space Museum.
It was particularly timely that during the hustle and bustle of the 2014 holidays, I, along with curators Jennifer Levasseur and Cathleen Lewis, had a very special package to open for the very first time. We had astronaut Captain Gene Cernan and NASA to thank for the gift. Following his Apollo 17 mission, Capt. Cernan returned his Oxygen Purge System (OPS) cover to Earth in December 1972—an object that once covered his personal life support system (PLSS). The cover was examined by NASA and then sealed in plastic. This object, like most other flown hardware, was inspected post-flight, inventoried, and put on a storage shelf where it became a part of NASA’s flight collection. The National Air and Space Museum received the cover—still sealed in its plastic wrap — in the 1980s along with other Apollo-era artifacts which found a home for nearly three decades at the Museum’s Paul E. Garber Restoration and Storage Facility. During a recent survey of the collection, the object was rediscovered in storage where it laid untouched and sealed just as it was when it was returned from the lunar surface.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first American spacewalk by Gemini IV astronaut Edward White in 1965, the Museum recently opened a new exhibition, Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity, which highlights art, photography, artifacts, and personal accounts that represent Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) from Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Shuttle missions. Capt. Gene Cernan performed one near-fatal EVA during his Gemini IX-A mission and three moonwalks during Apollo 17 with astronaut-geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt. He was also the last man to walk on the Moon.
Capt. Cernan’s OPS cover was chosen for display to highlight this moonwalk and to represent part of his life support system. In order to exhibit the OPS cover, the plastic wrap would have to be opened for the first time since it was sealed in 1973. The conservation team agreed to open the object in a controlled environment in the Emil Buehler Conservation Laboratory at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The event was documented by photo and video as none of us really knew what we would find. This allowed the conservation work to be archived so that I could keep working uninterrupted and focus on this important object as each side of the cover was carefully unfolded.
The most surprising thing about opening the object was the lack of loose lunar dust. The surfaces appear gray when you look at them and lunar particles are seen embedded in the fibers of the outer fabric. However, the lack of excess dust in the creases and folds of the cover indicated to me that the object may have been cleaned before it was packaged in 1973. As we examined the object more closely, carefully rearranging the fragile fabric, the cover slowly returned to its original shape. The condition of the preserved object was remarkable considering that many materials from this period are inherently unstable.
The outermost fabric of the cover is made of a tightly woven fiberglass material called Beta cloth. Inside the cover are additional layers of space-age fabrics such as Mylar, Dacron, Nylon, and Kapton. All of these materials can become brittle with age and often show signs of instability due to their exposure to the harsh environment of space. Physical damage to the object from use was also noticeable when we looked at the object. It was definitely used, and the evidence of Cernan’s activity on the lunar surface was marked by wear seen on the materials in the form of abrasions, tears, and minor loss. While this type of damage from operational use is not uncommon, what was surprising were the repairs made to the outer fabric someone performed in order to mend the cover.
Upon further examination, a white opaque silicone coating was seen applied to the exterior of the fabric over these small tears. This was most likely applied to the fabric to keep the fibers from fraying any further. In one spot, several hand-stitched threads (dark grey in color) were also discovered to hold a small tear together. It is not clear when the repairs were made or by whom, but careful examination indicated initially that the repairs were most likely made after the flight.
The painted United States flag applied to the back of the cover also shows some minor abrasions due to use and wear. The red and blue ink has small areas of loss where the flag most likely rubbed against the seat in the lunar rover vehicle during use. The flag was examined more closely under magnification using a three-dimensional digital microscope to determine if the paint was continuing to flake away from the fabric surface. The goal of preserving objects such as this OPS cover is to leave as much of the original material in place while making sure the object, and in this case the painted surface, remains stable for display and long-term preservation. All the markings and abrasions are evidence of historical wear and part of the object’s history, so we do not want to remove or alter that information. Even simple steps taken to clean an object could remove evidence that links an object to its place in history, such as the lunar dust trapped in the textile fibers. Microscopic grains of Moon dust, invisible to the naked eye, are embedded in the unpainted fibers of the textile exposed to form the stars of the flag.
Careful handling, display, and preservation of this object in the future are necessary so that information about its history is not lost. The responsibility of preserving objects that traveled to the Moon and back is a true honor. It is certainly a privilege to be part of a team that is entrusted with making sure that objects at the National Air and Space Museum are not only preserved today, but can be displayed and preserved for years to come.
Gene Cernan’s OPS cover from Apollo 17 is now on display for the first time at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. The exhibition Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity is open through June 8, 2015.
Lisa Young, Objects Conservator, National Air and Space Museum
A full-size engineering model of the Pioneer 10 /11 spacecraft normally hangs in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall at the National Air and Space Museum. However, a few weeks ago it was removed and placed in the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, while the Milestones gallery undergoes a major renovation in the coming months. The photo depicts how the Pioneer model was hung in Milestones and shows the side of the spacecraft that pointed away from Earth during its flight.
The Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft were built by TRW Inc. after being awarded a contract by NASA Headquarters in 1969. Each spacecraft included 11 science instruments and a main antenna that was 2.74 meters (9.5 feet) in diameter for communication with Earth. The spacecraft included a primitive computer with a memory that could store a maximum of five, 22-bit-long commands, which seems quite miniscule in today’s era of smartphones! Each spacecraft was powered by four radioisotope thermoelectric generators (on the two booms toward the top of the photo) that produced 140 watts of power at the time of the Jupiter encounters—25 watts of which ran all of the science experiments (compare this to the typical light bulbs used in your home).
Pioneer 10 was launched from Cape Canaveral on March 2, 1972, and it became the first spacecraft to traverse the asteroid belt between July 1972 and February 1973, which was a scientific and engineering “unknown” at the time. Pioneer detected less debris within the asteroid belt than had been anticipated. On December 3, 1973, Pioneer 10 became the first spacecraft to fly past Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system; it flew within 132,000 kilometers (79,000 miles) of the top of the cloud deck that comprises the visible face of the planet. Communication with Pioneer 10 continued until Jan 23, 2003, during which time the instruments were returning valuable information about the solar wind in the outer solar system. Pioneer 11 was launched on April 5, 1973, making its closest approach to Jupiter on December 2, 1974, passing only 43,000 km (26,000 miles) above the clouds of the giant planet. Pioneer 11’s path was targeted to fly past Jupiter at precisely the right position so that it would fly on toward Saturn. On September 1, 1979, Pioneer 11 became the first spacecraft to fly past the ringed planet Saturn. It is currently headed in the direction of the constellation Scutum. While these Pioneer spacecraft were once the furthest human-made objects in space, they have since been passed by two Voyager probes.
Paul Garber (1899-1992) is a legend around the National Air and Space Museum, and rightly so. An aviation enthusiast and skillful kite- and model-maker since childhood who once watched Orville Wright fly overhead, he started working at the Smithsonian in 1920, building models and preparing aviation-themed exhibitions. For the next 72 years he dedicated himself to preserving the nation’s aeronautical heritage and sharing it with the public. He was responsible for almost single-handedly acquiring the largest and most remarkable collection of historic aircraft in the world. And it was Garber who had the foresight to persuade the Secretary of the Smithsonian to send a cable to Charles Lindbergh in Paris after his momentous 1927 flight to ask if he would donate the Spirit of St. Louis to the Museum. Lindbergh said yes, and the Smithsonian acquired one of its most treasured artifacts.
Garber’s kite- and model-making talents helped contribute to the World War II effort. By 1940, Garber had assembled an exhibit of the different types of Allied and enemy aircraft in the news at that time. The display of scale models, photographs, and drawings caught the attention of the U.S. Navy, who asked Garber to bring it to the Navy Department and teach military personnel how to recognize these aircraft. Soon thereafter, he found himself a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve, assigned to the Special Devices Airplane Recognition program.
But Garber’s most significant contribution arose from his love of kites. When he learned about the need for effective practice gunnery targets at sea, he and his friend Stanley Potter came up with an unusual solution — large, highly maneuverable kites. Garber gave a skillful demonstration of the prototype to U.S. Navy Capt. Luis de Florez, effortlessly maneuvering it to spell out de Florez’s name, who was enormously impressed.
Six kites were immediately ordered, followed by 100, then 1,000. They proved so effective that by the end of the war some 300,000 target kites had been built. The kites could loop, dive, climb, and make figure-eights, all manually controlled by a reel and harness worn at the waist. The outline of an enemy aircraft was emblazoned the front.
Garber’s kites are credited with saving an American carrier from enemy attack. During a kite target training exercise, two Japanese torpedo bombers came out of nowhere toward the ship, and because gunnery trainees were in position and ready, they quickly downed the enemy planes. As Garber put it, “The kite shooters swung their guns around and shot those rascals into the water.”
The National Air and Space Museum maintains a nearly complete collection of Garber target kites in all variations by all manufacturers. They are currently in storage. Other owners of these vintage WWII kites periodically place them for sale on eBay. They can also be seen in museums around the world, such as the Kite Museum in Tokyo, Japan.
In his later years, Paul Garber founded the Smithsonian Kite Festival, the annual kite-flying celebration held for decades on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The Museum’s facility in Suitland, Maryland was named the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility in recognition of Garber’s long, distinguished service to the Museum and the instrumental role he played in building the storage site. There is a Museum endowment named for him as well. He died in his sleep on September 23, 1992, at the age of 93. Garber’s final resting place is in Arlington National Cemetery.
Kathleen Hanser is a writer-editor in the Office of Communications.
There is a common saying that the hands are where the mind meets the world. In space there is no direct contact between the mind and the world. This transaction is mediated by the artificial structures called gloves. I came to realize the extent of this interference most profoundly several weeks ago when I saw a display at the Kennedy Space Center, in the Visitor Saturn V building. There, next to the gloves that Allan Shepard wore while on the surface of the Moon during his Apollo 14 mission are the original plaster casts of the hands of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, the crew of Apollo 11. I have known that these casts had existed. Thirty-four of them adorned a cover of Life magazine in the late 1960s. I had never personally seen a set before, even though their by-products are part of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s collection. Viewing them first hand is an awe-inspiring experience on the level of viewing life masks of historic figures.
Making plaster casts of the astronauts’ hands was the first step in creating custom form-fitting gloves. The casts on display at Kennedy had an eerie air to them. The use of plaster in the original hand molds had shown its age over time. The plaster hands of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins, who were in their late thirties at the time, look more like the hands of much older men as the material has contracted, leaving deep crevices where faint joint lines had once been. Still, the casts hold time still, revealing recent manicures just prior to their creation and variation among individuals of the “neutral” hand position.
As I said, the plaster casts were but the first step in creating gloves for the Apollo astronauts. In order to allow the astronauts to do meaningful manual labor on the surface of the Moon, gloves had to fit their hands as closely as possible. In the Mercury and Gemini programs, glove sizing had been approximate, following the standard for pilots’ flight gloves. Then, the expectation was that operating a glove under pressurization would be the exception and not the rule. For a man to walk on the Moon, gloves would have to fit snuggly, retain pressure, and cause as little irritation as possible to the delicate human hand. In order to accomplish this, engineers went back to a 1915 patent for a seamless rubber glove. Ohioan Thomas W. Miller proposed a then-new approach to the glove dip process to form a seamless glove with a lining of textile fabric on its inner surface. The original idea was to manufacture a comfortable glove for industrial purposes. Miller’s idea was later refined for medical and ultimately for home use in the form of Playtex gloves.
In the case of the Apollo spacesuit gloves, from the plaster casts, technicians created solid black rubber glove dip forms, of which we have many in the collection. Lost in the transition from plaster casts to glove dip forms are the fine details of the human hand. The joints are exaggerated to allow for air displacement as the fingers bend and the hand flex. Only the anatomical measurements of the hands and fingers are preserved. The glove bladder, a result of dipping a synthetic glove wrapped around the form into neoprene, was hand-sewn into a restraint system that prevented the gloves from ballooning and the astronaut from losing grip from inside the spacesuit. The restraint and dipped glove system is easy to see in the Intravehicular (IV) gloves that astronauts wore inside the spacecraft, but a similar, more protective system comprised the lunar Extravehicular (EV) gloves that 12 astronauts wore while they worked on the surface of the Moon.
So here in five pictures, one can see the process through which astronauts’ minds, and hands, are separated from the world of space. Layers of necessary protection have been designed to minimize the intrusion between the hand and the world that it is exploring. Even with the delicate refinements that designers have made, the gloves still intrude on the mind-world interaction. It is a continuing goal of spacesuit designers to further reduce that intrusion.
Cathleen Lewis is a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum.