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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s 98 degrees and 74% humidity outside. Beads of sweat start gathering above your brow. In seconds, those beads balloon and begin a hurried descent to your neck, then your back, until finally you’re soaked. You’re a man-made wonder; a moving, breathing, t-shirt-wearing Niagara Falls. As anyone who has ever braved the hot asphalt to chase down the siren song of an ice cream truck knows, the best cure for a sweltering summer day is ice cream.
It’s fortunate then, that the summer heat cannot be felt within the confines of a spacecraft—the International Space Station is always a comfortable 72 degrees. Three hundred and fifty-four kilometers (220 miles) above Earth, ice cream is hard to come by.
The gift-shop staple, “Astronaut Ice Cream,” was the first type of ice cream to make it into space during the Apollo 7 mission in 1968, and it was the only time it was “served” in space. Astronauts Walter M. Schirra, Donn F. Eisele, and R. Walter Cunningham were treated to pouches of Neapolitan on their 11-day mission. Unlike on Earth, the freeze-dried dessert never really took off in space. It was far too crumbly to be practical in a weightless environment, and the astronauts never became enamored with the taste.
In 2006, however, the real stuff made its way into orbit. Space Shuttle Atlantis flew a freezer, known as GLACIER, to the International Space Station (ISS). The freezer was meant to store research samples that would eventually be returned to Earth, but why send it up empty? NASA took the opportunity to fill the freezer with ice cream cups from Blue Bell—vanilla with swirls of chocolate sauce. The last time ice cream was enjoyed in zero-g was in 2012. Once again, ISS crew members were treated to Blue Bell ice cream. The tantalizing frozen treat made the trip aboard the SpaceX Dragon resupply capsule.
While the Museum doesn’t have any rocky road in its collection, it does have an impressive spread of other space foods. While you explore what astronauts eat, make sure to treat yourself to a scoop of the regular stuff back here on Earth. It is National Ice Cream Day after all. Whether you like it sandwiched between cookies, split between bananas, or precariously perched atop a cone, enjoy this summer salvation in honor of the current ISS crew who cannot.
Jenny Arena is the digital content manager in the Museum’s Web and New Media Department.
Click here to leave us a comment, and tell us what’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?
On August 1, the National Air and Space Museum will join with the United States Marine Corps and the National Museum of the Marine Corps to bid adieu to one of the most important American military aircraft of the past 50 years, the Boeing CH-46 Sea Knight, or “Phrog,” as it is almost universally known among Marines. Although often overlooked next to the Vietnam-era Huey in the pantheon of helicopter fame, this aircraft may well have been at the forefront of more American military operations in peace and war than any other. The Phrog, named for its squat, amphibian-like appearance and tendency to bounce when taxiing (the origin of the “ph” is a bit more obscure), has been the unsung hero of Marine Corps operations since June 1966 when squadron HMM-265 began operations in South Vietnam.
The Phrog has been the Corps’ longest serving helicopter by a wide margin and has been most useful in the remote corners of the globe. However, its origins are tied closely to the atomic bomb and superpower conflict. The 1946 atomic tests at Bikini showed that the Marines’ previous way of war—concentrating amphibious forces against defended beaches—was untenable if the enemy had nuclear weapons. Their solution was a strategy known as “vertical envelopment,” to leapfrog the defenses with helicopters and outflank the enemy. The attacking force would be weaker, but it would also be striking where the enemy wasn’t. Coincidentally, this strategy for dealing with the extremes of potential Cold War outcomes proved ideally suited to the proxy wars that occurred on the fringes of the American and Soviet spheres over emerging Communist and anti-colonial insurgencies. The Korean War validated the helicopter’s potential, but it was the British and French experiences in Indochina, Malaya, and Algeria that demonstrated just how critical helicopters were in conflicts where road networks were severely limited.
The Vertol Corporation, soon to be part of Boeing, manufactured the H-21 used by the U.S. Army and Air Force, as well as the French army, which employed them extensively in Algeria. Based on the Algerian experience, Vertol proposed a new design—the Model 107, which immediately found favor with the Army. This new design utilized turbine engines instead of a reciprocating power plant, giving it greater power in a smaller package. The proven tandem rotor configuration was ideal for accommodating both internal and external loads. By the time the first samples were under production for the Army, the Marines had committed to the replacement of its existing Sikorsky HUS fleet, known as the UH-34 from 1962. In 1961, the Marines embraced the Army version of the Model 107, which the Corps designated the HRB and would become the CH-46 the following year. The Army ultimately decided the Model 107 was too small for their needs and had it redesigned into a considerably larger version, which would soon become known as the CH-47 Chinook.
Ultimately, the Marine Corps acquired over 400 CH-46s which fully replaced the UH-34s by the late 1960s. This transition couldn’t have come sooner. The UH-34 had been a vast improvement on its predecessors when it entered service in the mid-1950s, but it struggled heavily in the hot, humid conditions of Southeast Asia, and although the cabin could carry 12 armed troops, it struggled with half that load. Provided it didn’t have to carry too much fuel, the Phrog could carry 17 fully equipped Marines.
The Phrog served admirably in support of Marine combat operations in Vietnam, including some very high profile operations such as the resupply of the besieged Khe Sanh garrison and the evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Saigon as it fell in 1975. However, CH-46 crews suffered heavily. A series of in-flight break ups led to a panicked search for technical solutions. As one of the larger helicopters in service, it was also a juicy target for the enemy—one that had limited defensive firepower and a number of vulnerable systems. Over a third of all Marine CH-46s were lost in Vietnam, with 109 brought down by hostile fire (40% of the Marine helicopters lost to enemy action) and another 50 destroyed by accidents and other causes.
After Vietnam, the CH-46 continued to serve with the changing tides of American military involvement. Even in peacetime, the Phrog frequently was tasked with evacuations from embassies during periods of unrest and civil war abroad. By the 1970s, the proven Phrog was showing its age and the Marine Corps began looking at new technologies. Ultimately, Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor emerged as the solution to the Phrog’s Achilles heel—range. However, while the Osprey underwent an agonizingly slow and plagued development, the CH-46 suddenly began to shoulder a greatly increased burden of operations in the turbulent geopolitical environment as the Cold War drew to a close. Less than 300 airframes had to support demanding trials by fire and the elements in Grenada, Beirut, Operation Desert Storm, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
One of the more enduring accomplishments of the Phrog that often gets lost with the focus on combat operations, was its starring role in humanitarian and disaster relief efforts. On five continents the Phrog helped deliver countless meals and water to survivors of earthquakes, famines, hurricanes, typhoons, floods, and civil war.
Now, as the final CH-46 squadron, HMM-774, begins its conversion to the MV-22, the final examples of this helicopter are finishing out their storied careers of five decades. As a fitting tribute to the legacy of this aerial workhorse, the Marine Corps has set aside one particular Phrog to represent and carry the flag for this type. The chosen Phrog, Navy Bureau Number 153369, is a worthy candidate for the honor. One of its pilots, 1st Lt. Joseph Donovan was awarded a Navy Cross for a rescue under fire in Vietnam during April 1969.
Unfortunately, like nearly all Phrogs, the aircraft records provide an inadequate history of the everyday heroism exhibited by the aircrews and Marines, like Lt. Donovan, that flew on these helicopters. 153369’s recent history is no less distinguished than its Vietnam history. It served in both Iraq and Afghanistan during some of the most intense periods of combat. Between February and September of 2004, it operated with squadron HMM-266 in the Oruzgan province in central Afghanistan. It also operated in Iraq with squadrons HMM-161, HMM-268, and HMM-364 over a three-year period, starting during the height of the “surge.”
On August 1, 2015, helicopter 153369 will be added to the collection of the National Museum of the Marine Corps. At the moment, their Quantico, Virginia location is unable to accommodate the airframe. While the Marine Corps Museum creates space, the National Air and Space Museum will display the helicopter at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia as a long-term loan. The aircraft is wearing a high-gloss version of its Vietnam paint scheme as a tribute to the type’s original trial by fire and for its central place in Marine operations in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
The delivery flight and public ceremony for 153369’s retirement at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on Saturday, August 1 at noon, will be the last public showing of an airworthy CH-46 and is the Marine Corps’ formal sunset ceremony for the type. To celebrate the Phrogs’ five decades of service and the complete transition of the Marine’s medium lift capability from CH-46 to MV-22, the event will be open to the public. Visitors will have the opportunity to walk through the 153369, as well as an MV-22 that supports HMX-1, best known for its role in supporting transport of the President.
Have you had experience with the CH-46 Phrog? We’d love to hear your story. Leave us a comment below to share or simply say goodbye to this venerable aircraft.
Roger Connor is a museum specialist in the Aeronautics Department who curates the museum’s drone collection.
As we await the exciting results of New Horizons’ flyby of Pluto on July 14, it is all too easy to think that this mission was inevitable: the capstone to NASA’s spectacular exploration of all the planets (and ex-planets) of the solar system since the 1960s. Yet, it proved extraordinarily difficult to sustain a Pluto project. NASA discarded several proposals in the 1990s and canceled the program outright three times in the early 2000s. Each time it was revived thanks to intervention by advocates, politicians, and the public.
The first discussions of exploring Pluto took place in the late sixties and early seventies, in connection with a possible “Grand Tour” of the outer planets, thanks to their fortuitous alignment a decade later. Two Voyager spacecraft eventually visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, but neither of them could make it to Pluto. Not much was known about it anyway, except that, as astronomical instrumentation improved, it kept shrinking in size and mass. A couple of space physicists published a tongue-in-cheek scientific article that, based on slope of the graph, Pluto would disappear by the early 1980s! Critical to an accurate determination of its size was the U.S. Naval Observatory’s discovery of a large satellite, named Charon, in 1978. It turned out to be 1,200 km (approximately 746 miles) in diameter, fully half the size of the primary (the Earth’s Moon is 3,475 km, 2,159 miles). By sheer luck, in 1985 the two began eclipsing each other for a few years, which greatly aided understanding them and helped confirm that Pluto had an atmosphere.
In 1989, as Voyager 2 approached and then passed Neptune, lobbying for a Pluto mission began, impelled by the exciting new science. Taking the lead was an astronomer then finishing his PhD, Alan Stern, who today is the Principal Investigator (mission leader) of New Horizons. He helped form a “Pluto Underground” of mostly young scientist-advocates. Leaders in NASA’s space science directorate were sympathetic. In the early 1990s, two proposals for increasingly ambitious spacecraft arose, only to be replaced in 1992 by a miniaturized lightweight probe called Pluto Fast Flyby. It was the brainchild of Robert Staehle, an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California (NASA’s main planetary spacecraft center). He had succeeded in securing the interest of the agency’s new administrator, Daniel Goldin, who came into office determined to force a technical revolution in the planetary program. Billion-dollar-class spacecraft were to be discarded in favor of small, “faster, better, cheaper” missions.
Pluto Fast Flyby became a JPL project, but it stalled in the mid-nineties. A fundamental problem was that no matter how small the spacecraft, Pluto was so distant that a powerful and expensive booster was required. Goldin said NASA could not afford it. Between 1994 and 1997 Stern, now at Southwest Research Institute, tried to get a Russian launch, but technical and money problems in their program caused that idea to die slowly. Constant spacecraft redesign led to two changes of name, the last being the Pluto Kuiper Express (PKE), reflecting growing interest in the Kuiper Belt of icy bodies beyond Neptune, of which Pluto was now the largest object. In the late nineties, PKE was moved into a joint program with probes to the Jovian moon Europa and to the Sun. All were to go around Jupiter (which would come into position to give a gravity assist to Pluto around 2003). But in September 2000, large cost overruns in the joint program led NASA’s space science chief, Edward Weiler, to kill PKE in favor of the Europa mission, which apparently had more political support.
The Planetary Society led a public campaign against the cancellation, but what really moved Weiler was a rebellion in the planetary science community. Nobody was against Europa, but there were compelling reasons why Pluto was more urgent: its atmosphere might “snow out” as it moved into a more distant part of its orbit, every passing year meant more of the planet going into a decades-long night, and a Jupiter gravity-assist opportunity would disappear for a decade after 2006. In December 2000, Weiler revived the idea, now as a competition open to groups beyond JPL for a program of under $500 million. But when the George W. Bush Administration came into office a month later, its budget office promptly cancelled Pluto in favor of Europa.
Over Christmas, Alan Stern had teamed with the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. APL’s Space Department, led by pioneering space physicist Stamatios Krimigis, was in the final stages of NASA’s highly successful, low-cost NEAR Shoemaker mission to the asteroid Eros. Krimigis (who won the National Air and Space Museum Trophy for Lifetime Achievement in 2015) had cultivated very strong political connections, notably to Maryland’s Senator Barbara Mikulski. She forced NASA to complete the competition. In November 2001, the agency announced that Stern’s New Horizons proposal had won over a competing JPL one. But when the new federal budget came out in January 2002, the Bush Administration cancelled Pluto again. Sen. Mikulski engineered another budget extension, giving New Horizons the chance to complete a more thorough technical review. That summer, the National Academy of Sciences released a “decadal survey” of planetary science priorities; it listed a Kuiper Belt mission as highly desirable. Bush’s budget office and NASA (which had no choice but to follow its direction) finally gave in. In early 2003, New Horizons was at last officially approved.
That was a great victory for the perseverance of Stern and other Pluto advocates, but it was not the end of the program’s perilous course. It endured a shortage of plutonium for its radioisotope power generators and a crisis over whether its Atlas V booster could be certified for flight. But on January 19, 2006, New Horizons became the fastest object ever launched (it passed the Moon’s orbit in nine hours!), on its way to Jupiter a year later. Yet it still has taken it nearly a decade to reach the Pluto system, which is now 32 times Earth’s distance from the Sun. All indications are that it will be the spectacular scientific success Pluto advocates have long promised.
Michael J. Neufeld is a senior curator in the Museum’s Space History Division. For an in-depth examination of the above story, see his “First Mission to Pluto: Policy, Politics, Science, and Technology in the Origins of New Horizons, 1989-2003,” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 44 (2014), 234-276.
Next week marks the 40th anniversary of an important moment in space history, when astronauts and cosmonauts greeted each other warmly in their docked Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft while orbiting above the Earth. It was the first joint space mission between the United States and Soviet Union.
One friendly gesture left out of the encounter, quite common at the time, was having a cigarette together, since smoking tobacco in a spacecraft is too dangerous. But among the commemorative items created in the aftermath of the project, preposterous to us in the twenty-first century, was a pack of Apollo Soyuz cigarettes, a symbol of the hospitality shared in space by two former enemies.
The Apollo Soyuz Test Project was the result of the new era of détente that had emerged from talks between American President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premiere Leonid Brezhnev between 1972 and 1974. One of the first areas of cooperation they considered was space exploration, and in 1972 the two countries agreed to a joint space venture. This would involve a rendezvous and docking together of an American Apollo spacecraft and a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft.
The Americans chose astronauts Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand, and Donald “Deke” Slayton as its crew. The Russians selected Aleksei Leonov, who was the first human to walk in space, and Valeri Kubasov.
On July 15, 1975 the Soyuz launched from Kazakhstan, and eight hours later the Apollo spacecraft launched from Florida. Two days later, Stafford and Leonov were seen shaking hands in space on TV screens across the world. “Glad to see you,” Stafford told Leonov in Russian. “Glad to see you. Very, very happy to see you,” Leonov responded in English. For the next several days, the astronauts and cosmonauts paid visits to each other’s’ spacecraft, ate not-so-delectable space food in tubes, exchanged commemorative items, and performed assigned tasks.
This new-found attitude of cooperation extended to Earth-based projects as well. Among these was a joint venture between the American cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris and the Soviet Yava cigarette factory, which produced the Apollo-Soyuz commemorative cigarettes. Officials on both sides hoped that this and other joint manufacturing endeavors would contribute to détente beyond the Apollo-Soyuz spaceflight.
The cigarette pack features a blue circle with a rendering of the docked Apollo-Soyuz spacecraft inside it, and bears English writing in blue and Russian in red. On one side it says, “Apollo Soyuz commemorative brand,” and on the other “Soyuz Apollo.” On one edge of the pack are the words, “Developed by Philip Morris Inc. U.S.A. and Glavtabak, U.S.S.R. in commemoration of U.S./Soviet space cooperation” in English and Russian, along with the English words, “Made in U.S.S.R., Tava Factory, Moscow.” Glavtabak was the Soviet State Tobacco Agency. The other edge displays the U.S. Surgeon General’s warning that cigarettes are dangerous to your health.
A memorandum from The American Tobacco Company dated September 19, 1975 and obtained from the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library at the University of California San Francisco states, “Our Laboratory smoke panel judged the smoke taste to be of medium impact and slightly sweet with spicy notes. In general, the panel liked the taste of the product.”
The cigarettes were sold in the United States and the USSR. They remained popular in the former Soviet Union after the collapse of the communist government as a symbol of luxury and because they tasted less harsh than traditional Soviet-grade tobacco products. As more Western tobacco brands became available in the former Soviet Union, the Apollo-Soyuz commemorative brand became less popular, but a factory in Kazakhstan still makes these cigarettes under license with Philip Morris.
The pack in the Museum’s collection was donated by a NASA employee who bought them while visiting the USSR. It is not on display.
Kathleen Hanser is a writer-editor in the Office of Communications at the National Air and Space Museum.