These suits have come a long way. True, it’s only 37 miles from Suitland, Maryland to Chantilly, VA. On a good day, that’s less than an hour’s drive on the beltway. But today, like 42 years ago, these suits are worlds away from where they came.
On December 6th, the spacesuit that Neil Armstrong wore as he took his first steps on the Moon made the giant leap from outdated storage facilities to new, state-of-the-art collections storage at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. About 200 suits are being relocated from the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland this winter. These include Michael Collins’ Apollo 11 suit and many more used to develop spacesuit technology and train astronauts.
Museum staff sometimes calls the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center “the promised land.” In some ways, the place is a museum worker’s (and culture buff’s) dream come true. The reason for this name? Conditions are ideal for the long-term preservation of these national treasures. Temperature, relative humidity, exposure to light, the elements, and pollutants can all seriously affect the life-expectancy of these beloved artifacts, but each can be tightly controlled at the new facility. Simply having a permanent, secure building with modern infrastructure and adequate physical space for each spacesuit ensures that the National Air and Space Museum’s comprehensive collection of spacesuits will survive for years to come.
In the relatively short time I have worked with the Museum, much progress has been made in preparing this collection to move to its new home, as curator Cathy Lewis explained in a previous post. Many collections staff, volunteers, interns, contractors, and more than one curator and conservator have worked with purpose and diligence in the last decade toward this day and this goal. It opens a new chapter for the Museum, begun earlier this year with the framed art collection. Now this collection will be more accessible to researchers and staff, and in turn, the public. I am honored to participate in this moment. This is one of many “small” artifact collections being relocated to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in the next several years, so check back for updates on our progress.