As the Museum kicks off its massive project to reimagine Air and Space, many of the objects in our collection will be moved from their current location on the National Mall—and in the process, will undergo conservation treatment, be newly photographed, and prepared to be featured in our all-new gallery spaces. The first objects on that list were also some of the most iconic in our collection: Buzz Aldrin’s Apollo 11 and Gene Cernan’s Apollo 17 spacesuits.
“For us, after these suits have been on display for 45 years, we really do need to see what’s happening with then so we can make decisions moving forward about their long-term preservation.”
These suits have been on display since the Museum opened in 1976, helping tell the story of humankind’s first and last journeys to the Moon’s surface. (Aldrin’s suit was even on display at the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building, before construction on our National Mall building was complete.) The Museum’s renovation project has provided our conservation team the time needed to examine the artifacts more closely, and give them a rest from the exposure of being on public display.
“Any time you have something on display, you can try your best to have the best support and environment around it, but things take a toll on the materials,” Supervisory Conservator Lisa Young said.
Both spacesuits are made of about 20 different materials, many of which were designed for a specific one-time use—getting to the Moon. These materials, including then-modern plastics, were not designed to last. Conditions like lighting, temperature, and humidity, all have an impact on the materials.
So, it’s important to rotate spacesuits on and off view, to give them a “break” from the exposure in the gallery.
The suits were taken from the Apollo to the Moon gallery by our Conservation and Collections teams in custom vertical packing crates. The crates made sure that the fragile suits were not bearing any weight during their trip from the National Mall to our Conservation Lab at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
The suits are now being examined by our conservators, and their findings will help better inform the way spacesuits (including Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 suit) are displayed in our upcoming Destination Moon gallery, set to open in 2022.
“It really is our one time to document them fully, and to get information out of the suits to inform our research,” Young said. “For us, after these suits have been on display for 45 years, we really do need to see what’s happening with then so we can make decisions moving forward about their long-term preservation.”
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