The spacesuit that allowed astronaut Neil Armstrong to survive the extreme conditions of space and take his historic first steps on the moon is falling victim to an even greater foe: time. The Smithsonian Institute, which has kept the suit in storage for the last several years due to its fragile condition, is turning to crowdfunding to save this iconic piece of space history and to make it available once again to the public.
"To provide public display and access, Armstrong’s spacesuit requires conservation to stop current deterioration and a state-of-the-art display case that will mimic the climate-controlled environment where it is currently being safeguarded," the Smithsonian says in its Kickstarter campaign.
Before the suit can be put on display, the Smithsonian plans to spend three to four years returning the suit to the condition it was in when Armstrong took it off in 1969. This includes touching up faded colors, removing stains that have appeared over the last 46 years, and preserving the incidents of lunar dust that still cling to the suit's fabric. In addition, a complete 3-D scan of the spacesuit will be conducted to open up new virtual experiences, provide teachers with interactive educational opportunities, and to digitally preserve the artifact for centuries to come.
"As we complete this research, we’ll be using state-of-the-art techniques in 3-D 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," the campaign explains.
Should the $500,000 goal be met (there are 28 days to go, and the campaign is already half-way there), the Smithsonian plans to display the suit as part of its future Destination Moon exhibit at the Museum in Washington, D.C., in time for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission in 2019.
"The suit is a part of our cultural heritage, and safeguarding it recognizes its importance in telling the story of a remarkable accomplishment," they add. "And because it is the real thing, seeing the suit provides a tangible way of touching history."
Once the Smithsonian has figured out how to best preserve the Armstrong suit for future generations, it will then apply the same practices to the 26 other suits it currently has in its possession, many also currently locked in storage.
The 27 spacesuits from a wide variety of space programs and missions that the Smithsonian Institute currently has in its possession. (Photo: Amanda Young/Mark Avino/Spacesuits: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Collection)
Update 07/27: With 22 days still to go, the Kickstarter to save Neil Armstrong's suit has surpassed its $500,000 goal, with more than $544K collected.
"In the time it took the Apollo 11 crew to land on the Moon and return safely back to Earth, we have accomplished our goal thanks to your phenomenal response and passionate belief in our mission," the organizers jubilantly shared.
The next step for the fundraiser is a series of stretch goals that includes the preservation of the spacesuit worn by astronaut Alan Shepard. In 1961, Shepard became the first American to travel into space as part of the Mercury mission. The Smithsonian is aiming for a new goal of $700,000 for this - and its many other spacesuits - to be preserved for generations to come.
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