Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. in a case designed by Goppion
22 Jul 2019
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing with a range of educational and commemorative activities across five days. The events are set for July 16–20 in honor of the time between Apollo 11’s launch and landing, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first to walk on the Moon.
The highlight of the celebrations is the inauguration of the display, after 13 years, of the spacesuit Armstrong wore when he took his famous “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” on the surface of the Moon.
Restored thanks to an impressive fundraising campaign launched in 2015, the spacesuit – together with other objects from the mission – is currently on temporary display as it awaits the completion of the “Destination Moon” hall, expected in 2022.
The suit, strictly tailor-made and comprised of 20 layers of synthetic fibers, was worn by Armstrong for a total of 12 hours: during the launch on July 16, his “walk” through the Sea of Tranquility for about 2 hours and 15 minutes on July 20, and the splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.
Made for extremely functional purposes (to guarantee the best living conditions and operability possible in the extreme environments of both the moon and the return to Earth), 50 years later, the museum’s restorers have taken up the challenge to save this symbol of the Space Race and the power of science, preserving the spacesuit for future generations.
Conservators worked to stabilize the decay of the suit, taking care not to remove the moon dust embedded in the exterior fabric. The real challenge, however, was providing a stable environment for its display.
The combination of the advanced imagery, historical research and climate-control case allows us to share this suit with the world in a manner that has not previously been possible
Cathleen Lewis, PhD — Curator, Space History Division
Working in close collaboration with the team at the museum, Goppion designed and built a glass case that can excellently conserve the spacesuit: the “functional” mannequin – built according to Armstrong’s measurements – allows the system that controls the microclimate to blow air through the spacesuit’s fabric and absorb the volatile compounds emitted, sucking them into the Goppion filter in order to block harmful substances. Another system keeps the temperature and relative humidity both low and constant. This advanced circulation system allows for the vapors caused by the deterioration of the spacesuit’s rubbery textiles to be reduced and for decay to be slowed.
“The combination of the advanced imagery, historical research and climate-control case allows us to share this suit with the world in a manner that has not previously been possible” said the curator Cathleen Lewis.
Buzz Aldrin wearing an A7L spacesuit on the moon, 21 July 1969. Neil Armstrong, who took this photo, is visible in the reflection of the visor.
The year the world celebrates the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, another symbol of scientific and technological progress, and whose name is often associated with the Moon landing, Goppion has created another masterpiece of engineering design, comparable only to the display case designed to protect Leonardo’s most famous artwork, Mona Lisa.
Adam Savage learns about the suit’s long, delicate conservation process from National Air and Space Museum's Objects Conservator, Lisa Young.