Digitizing Neil Armstrong’s Spacesuit

Posted on Tue, July 16, 2019
  • by: The Smithsonian's Digitization Program Office
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In this guest blog from the Smithsonian's Digitzation Program Office, we explore a new way to experience Neil Armstrong's iconic Apollo 11 spacesuit.

50 years after the historic Apollo 11 mission that landed the first humans on the Moon, the Smithsonian is celebrating by releasing the results of a multi-year conservation effort of Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit. The team at the National Air and Space Museum knew that, in addition to protecting and displaying the suit, they wanted to be able to share it with a wider audience. There’s where our team at the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office came in. Working with the museum, we 3D scanned the suit, helmet, and gloves. The resulting 3D models, which have been fully annotated by the suit’s curator and conservator, are now available at 3d.si.edu/collections/neilarmstrong

laser arm with spacesuit

To achieve our desired level of accuracy and detail, we used a variety of methods to digitize the suit:

  • Structured light captured the larger forms of the suit and served as a data set to tie the more detailed information together. Structured light scanning captures geometry and color relatively quickly by projecting light patterns across the object and recording how this light deforms over the surface.
  • Laser arm scanning was the primary capture method that picked up extreme detail down to the weave of the fabric on the suit. When using a laser arm, a laser line is projected to triangulate hundreds of thousands of points across an object’s surface, which are then connected into a mesh and interpreted as the captured surface.
  • Photogrammetry was used to capture high resolution photographic color. During this part of the process, we captured hundreds of photos of the spacesuit from all angles. These photos are then fed into specialized software that recognizes landmarks in each photo to tie them together and create a 3D object with photorealistic surface color that can be projected onto the laser scan model’s geometry.
  • Medical CT was used to capture interior components that were later CAD modeled. Computed tomography (CT) scanning takes a series of cross-sectional x-ray readings to capture “slices” of an object, a stack of these slices can then be used to visualize the internal geometry of that object.

The result is a massive raw data package of 345 GB, which was processed by a team of experts into the different usable 3D models you can download at 3d.si.edu/collections/neilarmstrong

We have also made the 3D data available so that you can download the hi-resolution model for use in AR/VR platforms, animation software, and 3-D printing. We’d love to see what you create! Be sure to tag DPO (@3d_digi_si on Twitter and @Smithsonian3D on Instagram) and the National Air and Space Museum (@airandspace on Twitter and @airandspacemuseum on Instagram) in your photos. 

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