UPDATE: As of Thursday evening, the Kickstarter campaign has raised nearly $436,000 toward its goal, with 26 days remaining.
The Smithsonian Institute is known, playfully and affectionately, as America’s closet, storing beloved artifacts ranging from Archie Bunker’s armchair and Jerry Seinfeld’s puffy shirt to Dorothy’s ruby slippers and an original Kermit the Frog muppet. It also houses an incredible collection of aircraft and space-faring vehicles across its many buildings dotting the larger Washington, D.C. landscape, iconic vessels that captured the imagination of the world as humanity reached for great new heights, pushing the boundaries of achievement.
Now the Smithsonian is asking for a little help to preserve a piece of history that has no equal: The suit Neil Armstrong was wearing 46 years ago when he set foot on the surface of the moon.
While the institute itself is publicly funded, it doesn’t have the reserves available to undertake the restoration and preservation work needed to keep Armstrong’s suit from disintegrating, and the material used back in 1969 wasn’t made to last forever. On Monday, the anniversary of Armstrong and fellow NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s “giant leap for mankind,” the Smithsonian launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $500,000 to save the suit.
But this is no normal preservation project: The Smithsonian wants to “conserve, digitize and display Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit,” and to complete the work by 2019, the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing.
“We want to preserve Armstrong’s spacesuit—and the story it tells of its incredible journey—down to the particles of lunar dust that cling to its surface,” according to the Kickstarter campaign. “Just like the Apollo program, we will accomplish this in collaboration of thousands of people across the country and around the world.”
The project launched Monday and by 10 p.m. that evening had collected nearly $142,000 of its goal from more than 1,800 backers. The project must raise the remainder by August 19 if the restoration work is to go forward.
Among the benefits of pledging to support the effort, the Smithsonian is offering rewards ranging from high-resolution digital photos of the space suit in action ($11) and a decal of Armstrong’s boot print on the lunar surface ($20) to a behind-the-scenes tour of the conservation lab and restoration hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., where Space Shuttle Discovery has retired ($1,000) and a Smithsonian flag that flew on that shuttle during one of its missions to space ($2,500).
“The Apollo 11 Moon landing was one of the single greatest achievements in the history of humankind,” the Smithsonian says. “Bringing Armstrong’s spacesuit back not only helps honor the accomplishments of a generation who brought us from the Earth to the Moon in less than nine years, it also inspires the next generation of bold space explorers. The suit is a part of our cultural heritage, and safeguarding it recognizes its importance in telling the story of a remarkable accomplishment.”
Also on Monday, a group of scientists and space backers announced a new initiative to continue searching for life in the galaxy, with venture capitalist and DST Global founder Yuri Milner dedicating $100 million toward two new projects that will improve the opportunity to find signals emanating from stars up to 25 trillion miles away. Exploration doesn’t stop, folks, it just takes a little while to discover new worlds.