On July 20, 1969, a human stepped foot on the Moon for the first time. The world watched the historic televised event with bated breath - and for a brief moment in time, humanity was united in their passion for the cosmos. Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin became household names and heroes for this monumental achievement. Their mission required more than just tenacity and guts; it required the collective effort of hundreds of American scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and more. To honor and preserve the legacy of Apollo 11, the Museum launched a campaign in 2015 to conserve the original spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong when he took “one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind.”
The Reboot the Suit Kickstarter sought to raise $500,000 for the conservation, digitization, and display of the spacesuit Armstrong wore when he stepped foot on the Moon fifty years ago. The campaign exceeded the Museum’s original goal, eventually pulling in donations and contributions that totaled $720,000 -- $500,000 for the Armstrong suit, with the remainder put towards preservation of Alan Shepard’s Mercury spacesuit.
Since the campaign, Museum conservators have been working closely with curators to ensure that the history of the suit remained intact, down to the smallest specks of Moon dust ingrained into the outer layers of fabric onthe suit. The science behind conservation is extensive, ranging from exercises in material science, knowing the lifespan of certain objects, categorizing and cataloging existing damages or imperfections, and more.
Conservators used imaging technology like x-rays and CT scans to analyze the interiorcomposition of the suit and establish the proper conditions that will allow the spacesuit to be preserved for decades to come. The suit itself has 24 invisible layers of material that kept Armstrong safe from weather, radiation, and other hazards posed by the lunar environment. The process of scanning the suit helped identify the composition of these layers. To combine the innovation of the past with the innovation of the future, a 3D model was made using imaging technology. This allows for an authentic digital replica of the suit to be available to the public, paving the way for a new generation to be exposed to the wearable technology that kept astronauts alive in space. Additionally, scanning techniques can be used to reassess the condition of the spacesuit as time goes on, providing a basis for comparison and a digital record of preservation.
Another important part of this conservation project was ensuring that the spacesuit was displayed in a stable environment. A state-of-the-art display case was created. The conditions inside the sealed glass case replicate the Museum’sideal storage conditions as closely as possible, allowing us to preserve the Apollo suit while sharing it with public. The light will be at a low level to avoid the cumulative damage that prolonged light exposure can have on textiles, and a climate system will maintain the cool, dry, environment that is essential to preserving our spacesuit collection.
A mannequin was created specifically for this suit, using Armstrong’s actual measurements, and designed to allow air circulation from the case through the mannequin system and into the suit. This advanced circulation system allows unwanted vapors, caused by the breakdown of the rubber in the suit, to be pulled away from the suit over time and slow down degradation.
The Armstrong spacesuit will go back on display on July 16, 2019, where it will be put on display in the Wright Brothersexhibit at the National Air and Space Museum. In 2022, the suit will be moved to the new Destination Moon gallery.