The Mystery of Grey Spots on Apollo Glove

Posted on Wed, July 27, 2016
  • by: Cathleen Lewis and Lisa Young
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Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 lunar extravehicular gloves and helmet recently went on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The last time the gloves and helmet were displayed, in 2012, visitors asked us about “grey spots” on the right glove.

We know the glove’s outer layer of Beta cloth is fragile and tends to break and snag through use and with age. This is documented throughout the manufacturing of the glove and in historical post-flight records. It’s common to see repairs to the outer fabric, but we didn’t know why there were so many spots on one of the gloves or when repairs were made.

Detail image of the lower gauntlet of the right glove showing snags in fabric that have been coated and repaired. Image: National Air and Space Museum

Detail of the glove using UV photographic imaging techniques in the laboratory. 

During our investigation, we determined that the spotting was the result of a coating that had been applied to the Beta cloth to repair small breaks and snags. Lunar dust trapped between the cloth and the coating created the grey color and gave the appearance of aging. 

The coatings, which are composed of the same Teflon used to coat the Beta cloth fibers, are actually very stable and show little signs of degradation. Engineers at ILC Dover, where spacesuits are made, confirmed that this same procedure is still used to repair spacesuits today. They worked with us to verify the composition of the coating and the application procedures that engineers used to apply it to the gloves.

The rest of the glove was cleaned post-flight, and the trapped lunar dust left behind, in contrast with the white fabric, will remain a part of the glove’s history. With this information, the conservation team was confident all the repairs were performed post-flight.

This summer, however, we were thrown a curve ball. With the help of a diligent intern, we continued to go through historical documentation. What we found contradicts our earlier understanding. Historical documents show that repairs were being made to the gloves and suit up to 14 days before launch. This means some of the glove repairs could have been made pre-flight, and lunar dust may have become trapped in the coating as a result of use.

We plan to continue to dig through historical documents and conduct research to help solve this mystery. You can help us. As we shared earlier, we want your photos of the spacesuit on display during its national tour beginning in 1970, or the gloves and helmet on later tours between 1971 and 1976. Send your photos to ArmstrongSuit@si.edu.