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Kickstarter campaign to save Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit soars past goal

WATCH: Forty-six years ago our view of what’s possible in space changed forever, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Now, the suit Armstrong wore that day is starting to age. It won’t last forever unless it’s restored and preserved. That’s expensive work, and the Smithsonian is asking for your help. Aarti Pole reports.

WASHINGTON – A crowdfunding campaign raising money to try to save a piece of space history has gotten an out-of-this-world response.

The spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to set foot on the moon, in 1969, is starting to deteriorate.

But, preserving it isn’t cheap. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. set up a the campaign on the website Kickstarter, asking public to chip in to cover the US $500,000 price tag.

As of Friday afternoon, just a matter of days since the call for donations went online July 20, more than 6,300 donors have pledged upwards of $514,000 – well ahead of the campaign’s 30-day cut off point.

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A video on the Kickstarter page begins with the iconic image of the lunar landing 46 years ago and Armstrong’s historic words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

But spacesuits then were built for short-term use, using material that breaks down over time.

“Time is taking its toll and it’s to the layers you don’t see,” said Lisa Young, the Objects Conservator with the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. “The interior rubber bladder is becoming brittle and is breaking you see a visible change in the materials themselves.

The Apollo 11 spacesuit had been on display since in 1976, but had to be removed 10 years ago because of the deterioration.

Restoring and preserving the spacesuit will be a costly undertaking. In addition to repairing it, the museum is planning to build a climate-controlled case, so it can be put back on display here are the National Air and Space Smithsonian.

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The restoration process is complex and will involve taking X-rays and CT scans, to make a complete 3-D digital scan of the suit Armstrong wore when he set foot on the moon. The whole process is expected to take three years to complete, with plans for the suit to be ready for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 mission.

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The suit will be a centrepiece in a gallery titled “Destination Moon”, set to open at the museum in 2020.

“We’re going to document everything about the suit… and then be able to put it on display,” said Young. “It’s something that’s important to the country because it’s a national treasure.”

Now that the crowdfunding goal has been reached – and then some – the campaign has been extended and a new target of $700,000 has been set.

“For our next goal, we are headed from $500,000 to $700,000 to tell the story of the first American in space, Alan Shepard,” read a post on the Kickstarter page. “We plan to conserve, digitize, and display the Mercury suit Shepard wore during the first American manned space flight in 1961. Along with Armstrong’s suit, Shepard’s – and many other suits planned for display in the new gallery – will show the progression of spacesuit technology during the space race era.”

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More than 60 per cent of the Smithsonian’s $1.3 billion budget comes from the federal government, while the rest comes from donors and grants.

That’s why they turned to cyberspace to look for help from the public and the “Reboot the Suit” online campaign.

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“The real key to the story of the spacesuit is the man that was inside of it and what it did to help and explore this other world,” says Neil Armstrong biographer James Hansen. “Along with that spacesuit and its story, I think the story of Neil Armstrong, who he was why he was chosen, I think that the Smithsonian and its curators are very wise in knowing that, that’s a two part story that needs to be told.”

Armstrong passed away in 2012 at the age of 82.

With files from The Associated Press