News & Politics

Smithsonian Launches Kickstarter Campaign for Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 Spacesuit

Photograph via the Smithsonian Institution.

It’s been 46 years since Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and while many artifacts of the historic space mission are on display at the National Air and Space Museum—including the command module, camera equipment, and even the urine hose the three-man crew used—the spacesuits worn by Neil Armstrong when he made his famous steps is locked up in a storage facility. The Smithsonian wants to put the outfit back on display in time for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 2019, and to raise the funds for the planned exhibit, it’s turning to a funding source the government-backed museum has never tapped before: Kickstarter.

The Smithsonian on Monday launched a $500,000 “Reboot the Suit” campaign on the fundraising website to finance the restoration, digitization, and display of Armstrong’s suit, marking the first effort in a year-long partnership in which the Smithsonian will use Kickstarter to finance exhibits. While the Smithsonian’s institutional backbone is supported by the federal government, many exhibits and capital projects rely on private money.

But those private donations are often massive contributions from patrons who wind up with their names on building, as in the Steven F. Udvar-Házy Center or the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat. For Armstrong’s spacesuit, the Smithsonian is looking to a different breed of donors.

“This is a way to reach a new audience,” says Smithsonian spokeswoman Alison Mitchell. “We’re always looking for ways to reach younger audiences, more diverse audiences. It’s a great way for people to feel more involved.”

And like any other Kickstarter ventures, the Smithsonian’s includes perks at various donation levels. People who give $11 and above will receive a high-resolution image of the suit that can be printed as a poster; the $35 level includes a scan of a spacesuit glove that can be fabricated with a 3-D printer; donors who give at least $55 will receive a “mission patch” by graphic designer Mike Okuda, best known for his work on Star Trek and the actual space program.

There’s another perk built into this campaign that most Kickstarter projects can’t offer: because the Smithsonian is the beneficiary, all the pledges are tax-deductible.

Even though the Smithsonian seems on track to blast through its $500,000 goal well before the 30-day fundraising window ends, it’ll be a while before Armstrong’s suit can go on display. The money being raised will go toward researching how the outfit can be preserved for public viewing; it’s in pretty bad shape right now.

“NASA created these suits for that one mission,” Mitchell says. “They weren’t thinking of hundreds of years from now, which is what we’re doing. Some of the materials are reacting to each other and deteriorating.”

Armstrong’s suit is likely the only Air and Space artifact that will get a Kickstarter campaign behind it, but Mitchell says the Smithsonian is looking at other projects at other museums.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.