The world’s most famous suit of clothes returned for public display on July 16, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit, complete with the first boots to step on the moon.
The spacesuit was prominently displayed at the museum when it opened in 1976, but was pulled from view in 2006 after showing signs of age-related deterioration. A cleaned and restored suit was unveiled on Tuesday to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11. Vice President Mike Pence presided at the ceremony, with the astronaut’s son and grandson in attendance. Armstrong died on Aug. 12, 2012, in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The spacesuit was a remarkable piece of engineering, designed to keep a person alive in the harshest of environments. It had to withstand extremes of both hot and cold, a constant bombardment of solar radiation and micrometeorites and the sharp rocks on the lunar surface, all while mainting a high degree of comfort and maneuverability.
The customized spacesuit — a complex affair consisting of 21 layers of varous materials with rubber tubes throughout, creating a liquid-cooled environment — was made to fit Armstrong and no one else. Forty-two separate measurements were made of his body. The suit itself weighed in at a little over 60 pounds. With the addition of the life-support backpack (which still remains on the surface of the moon), the total package would weigh over 200 pounds.
Armstrong spent a little over two hours on the lunar surface. Despite cleanings, some trace amounts of lunar dust is still visible on the spacesuit in the area around the knees (the very abrasive dust became embedded in the fibers).
The suit has now been digitized for all to see, and a 3D rendering can be examined and even copied (using a a 3D printer) online at 3d.si.edu/armstrong.
The conservation of the suit was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign appropriately named “Reboot the Suit.” The campaign raised the planned $500,000 from more than 9,000 donors in only five days.
The suit will be on display in an environmentally controlled case near the 1903 Wright Flyer on the museum’s second floor. In 2022, it will move to its permanent home in a new “Destination Moon” exhibition.
Dr. Cathleen Lewis, a curator in the museum’s space history department, summed it up this way: “This is the object that people were watching 50 years ago. This is our experience of human exploration of another world. We have to take our environment with us. And the only way to take our environment with us is with a spacesuit.”
View Jeff Malet’s photos from the public unveiling of Neil Armstrong’s restored spacesuit on July 16 at the National Air and Space Museum by clicking on the photo icons below.