The PJ Tatler

Smithsonian Turns to Crowdfunding to Preserve Neil Armstrong's Space Suit

Forty Six Years ago today, Apollo 11 landed on the moon, fulfilling President Kennedy’s pledge to land a man on the moon and return him to earth by the end of the 1960’s.

After the mission was over, NASA donated many of the artifacts from Apollo 11 to the Smithsonian, including Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit he used to become the first human to walk on the moon. Now, even though the suit is stored in a climate controlled facility, it is beginning to fall apart. In order to save it, the Smithsonian has turned to Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website, to raise at least $500,000 over the next 30 days to “build a climate-controlled display case and digitize the spacesuit with 3D scanning.” The goal is to ready the suit for permanent display by July 20, 2019 — the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

Why Kickstarter?

Kickstarter gives a wide audience the chance to be a part of this project. We’re inviting you to go behind the scenes and be a part of the process – from fundraising through conservation to display. All backers will receive regular updates on the process and can follow along each step of the way.

The Armstrong suit restoration project is the first of several efforts at crowdfunding with Kickstarter that the Smithsonian will undertake.

Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit – like most of the spacesuits in the Museum’s collection – is currently being stored in a climate-controlled collections storage area that is not accessible to the public.

You may be surprised to learn that spacesuits are among the most fragile artifacts in the Museum’s collection. The Apollo suits were made to take astronauts to the Moon and back safely — not to last hundreds of years in a museum.

To provide public display and access, Armstrong’s spacesuit requires conservation to stop current deterioration and a state-of-the-art display case that will mimic the climate-controlled environment where it is currently being safeguarded.

Will the suit look dramatically different when the project is complete? Not to the naked eye. Conservation is the process of documenting, stabilizing and protecting an artifact, not modifying it to make it “like new.”

So why does it take so long? We’re allowing plenty of time to get this right.The research and documentation we do now will literally write the book on the proper techniques for spacesuit conservation for every suit in our collection. Along the way, we’ll be consulting with those who contributed to making the suit and its materials, those who cared for it during the Apollo program, and materials experts throughout the world. Research, meetings, and mastering new techniques take time.

As we complete this research, we’ll be using state-of-the-art techniques in 3D scanning, photogrammetry, chemical analysis, CT scanning, and other means available to create a detailed map of the suit that will document its condition in the most complete way possible. This work will inform a condition assessment that will help us create the appropriate environment for public display while preserving the suit in its current condition.

The Smithsonian receives federal funding, but only for its “core” functions, so it makes sense to turn to crowdfunding for these sorts of special projects.

Less than a day into the Kickstarter effort, more than $100,000 of the $500,000 goal has been raised. That bodes well for future Smithsonian-Kickstarter collaborations that will seek to preserve the American heritage we all share.