Smithsonian museum wants your help to preserve Neil Armstrong's spacesuit

On the 46th anniversary of humanity's first steps on the moon, Kickstarter and the Smithsonian team up to save -- and display -- a vital piece of space history.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
3 min read

The power of the crowd will determine this space suit's fate. Smithsonian Institution

Forty-six years ago today, astronaut Neil Armstrong made history by planting his space boot into the gray dust of our moon. While the Apollo 11 mission is well represented at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, there is one piece of gear that's conspicuously absent -- the spacesuit that kept Armstrong alive as he trotted around on our constant companion in the sky. That's because all spacesuits are stored in a special offsite facility to prevent them from deteriorating.

Now, the Smithsonian is launching its first-ever Kickstarter campaign to ask for the crowd's support in preserving, restoring and displaying Armstrong's suit in time for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 2019. The suit will then be put on display as part of a new exhibit called Destination Moon.

You might think that a museum as mighty as the Smithsonian could just embark upon the restoration and display of the suit on its own. But the museum says that it simply doesn't have the funds for the project.

"Private support is critical to the Smithsonian's mission, as federal appropriations are restricted to core functions at the Smithsonian, such as safeguarding the collections, basic research and the costs associated with operating and maintaining the museums," a museum spokesperson said in a statement. "New exhibitions, public programs and the digitization and display of collections, however, are often funded through private support."

Some of the work that will be done to the suit if the Kickstarter campaign is successful. Smithsonian Institute

As part of the restoration project, the suit will be cleaned and chemically analyzed so that it can be treated to prevent any further degradation of its materials. For example, the deterioration of a silk flag patch on the suit will be stabilized and an orange stain of unknown origin (Tang, no doubt) will be cleaned. The suit will also be digitally scanned and a special case that mimics the conditions that are preserving it now will be built so that it can be made available for viewing by the public.

The goal of raising $500,000 (about £320,000 or AU$680,000) for this project represents the start of a year-long pilot collaboration project between the Smithsonian and Kickstarter.

"Through Kickstarter, we are reaching global audiences with the ability to make amazing projects come to life," said Yoonhyung Lee, director of digital philanthropy at the Smithsonian. "The public will have the chance to directly contribute to specific Smithsonian projects and follow the creative process from fundraising through completion, regardless of their level of support."

As for the rewards -- other than helping to preserve one of the most awesome bits of space history ever -- you can also snag some fun gear. A decal of a boot print from Apollo 11 can be yours for $20 (about £13, AU$27); the 3D data that will allow you to print your own copy of Armstrong's space glove is available for $35 (about £22, AU$47); $55 (about £35, AU$75) buys you a mission patch; and $542 (about £348, AU$735) lets you drink "moonshine in the moonlight" at an outdoor party for Kickstarter backers on the museum's terrace on September 27 (I know, right?!). There are more awards at various levels, which you can see on the project's page.

This is an all-or-nothing Kickstarter project, so if the full $500,000 isn't raised, no one gets charged, the suit stays in storage and the project fizzles out.

There is still nearly a month left in the campaign and just over $23,500 has been raised at time of publication. Liftoff has commenced.

Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 moon gear rediscovered (pictures)

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