Bad Astronomy

Reboot the Suit!

We chose to do this not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

Photo by Phil Plait, with permission of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

Every now and again I get involved in a project I’m truly, deeply excited about, and honored to be a part of. This is one of those times.

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum needs your help for a fantastic project. It needs to conserve and preserve one of the greatest icons in American History:

Neil Armstrong’s Apollo spacesuit.

This is the spacesuit he wore when he made that one small step, forever dividing history into two eras: one where humans had not yet set foot on another world, and one where we forevermore became a spacefaring species.

Monday—on the 46th anniversary of that first Moon landing—Smithsonian has announced a project to help raise the funds needed to preserve the suit, and they asked me to be a part of it. We made a video introduction to the project:

You can read more about all this at the Air and Space Museum’s blog

The Kickstarter page has details on the different avenues that will be taken to conserve the suit, and also has the long list of rewards you’ll receive at various pledge levels … including access to files that will allow you to make a 3-D printout of the suit after it’s been digitized in high resolution!

The scale of this kind of project means it doesn’t come cheap. It’ll take $500,000 to fund it. But an artifact this important, this iconic, needs to be taken care of, and if this gets funded, the experts at the Air and Space Museum will do so with professionalism, care, and love.

We are just passing through history. This:

The first spacesuit on the Moon.

Photo by Phil Plait, with permission of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

This is history.

I was overwhelmed to be invited into the back corridors of the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, to see the spacesuit for myself (I have bigger versions of the pictures you see here, plus a few more, in an album on Flickr). I walked past workbenches and open areas with priceless treasures—the wheels from the Spirit of St. Louis, a snuffbox given to passengers who flew on the Montgolfier brothers’ hot air balloons, and the original Enterprise model from Star Trek (!!!)—and was able to stand next to and peer into Cmdr. Armstrong’s suit.

It was, quite simply, one of the high points in my life. To be able to see it up close, to talk to its caretakers, see how they work with it and other priceless historical items … it was profoundly moving.

To stand over this suit and see the actual mission and NASA patches was thrilling. Thrilling.

Photo by Phil Plait, with permission of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

This suit, with its human inside it, walked on the Moon. For 2½ hours, the suit traversed the lunar surface, allowing Armstrong to breathe and survive in one of the harshest possible environments. Along with Buzz Aldrin he set up scientific instruments, took pictures, and collected precious samples of the regolith and rocks around the landing site.

I’ve met some of the Apollo astronauts, and looked at other Apollo suits in museums. But this one? It was the first. The very first.

As Americans, as human beings of Planet Earth, it is more than our responsibility to maintain that spacesuit. It’s our duty. That’s why I jumped at the chance to participate in this project, and why I’m asking for your help.

If you have ever watched the footage of Armstrong stepping on the Moon, if you ever thought in awe of the grand adventure of traveling the 400,000-kilometer gulf separating it from our planet, if you ever gazed up at the Moon in the sky and wondered what it would be like to go there, and when we’ll be heading back again, then please, throw a little bit of money at this project.

My own dream is that, in a generation or two, a little boy or girl will be taking his or her first trip to the Air and Space Museum and will see that suit. It will make her wonder about her own history, and where the future will take her. And when she goes back home, back to the colony in Mare Tranquillitatis, she’ll look back toward Earth, and past it to Mars, to the asteroids, and to the stars.

But it starts here. Please help us Reboot the Suit.

I don’t ask this for much, but I will now: Please share this post and the Kickstarter link on any and all social media, and when you do, use the hashtag #RebootThe Suit. Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum has a broad presence on social media as well.

Thank you.

Photo by Phil Plait, with permission of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum