WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The spacesuit astronaut Neil Armstrong wore during his mission to the moon went on public display for the first time in 13 years on Tuesday, at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum exactly 50 years to the day when Apollo 11 launched into space.
Armstrong’s son Rick unveiled the suit along with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence who recalled how the country was deeply divided in the late 1960s but came together in pride when Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.
Armstrong died on Aug. 12, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“On top of the contributions to science and human understanding, for that brief moment, the man who wore this suit, brought together our nation and the world,” Pence said.
“Apollo 11 is the only event of the 20th century that stands a chance of being widely remembered in the 30th century,” said Pence said. “A thousand years from now, July 20, 1969 will likely be a date that will live on in the minds and imaginations of men and women, here on Earth, across our solar system, and beyond.”
Armstrong’s suit was displayed for about 30 years at the Smithsonian before it was taken down in 2006 because curators were concerned about deterioration.
For the past 13 years, the suit has been subject to extensive conservation work, which included interviews with the designers and creators of the spacesuit and research into the materials and products used.
“The complexity of the suit ensured it could support human life in the harshest of environments: extreme heat and cold, radiation, micrometeorites and the threat of cuts from sharp rocks all had to be taken into consideration,” Ellen Stofan, the Washington museum’s director, said at the event.
“As our curators note, these spacesuits were actually single-person spacecraft, but while they were designed to endure the punishment of a lunar walk, they weren’t designed to last half a century on display.”
While the original boots worn by the Apollo 11 astronauts were left on the moon because of weight concerns, the Smithsonian does have the boots worn by astronauts on Apollo 17 which were brought back to Earth.
Conservation work was funded by thousands of public donations. Additional funds have been raised to conserve the spacesuit of astronaut Michael Collins, who joined Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Apollo 11 mission.
Writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Tom Brown