One of the most fragile items in the museum’s collection, Armstrong’s suit was made to preserve human life in the harshness of space, albeit for a very short period of time. Because its myriad synthetic materials have an approximate half life of 50 years, the suit is starting to degrade, according to curator Cathy Lewis, who will lead the conservation team on the project.

“What’s more, many of the layers of Armstrong’s space suit have remained unseen for decades, which means we have been unable to monitor their condition,” Lewis says. “Now, with advances in conservation and imaging technology, we can document and monitor the suit’s condition inside and out.”

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For public display and access, Armstrong’s space suit requires conservation to stop current deterioration, as well as a state-of-the-art display case that will mimic its climate-controlled storage environment, which is currently inaccessible to visitors.

The suit won’t look any different post-process, at least not to the untrained eye, she adds. Conservation is the process of documenting, stabilizing, and protecting an artifact, not altering its appearance so it looks “like new.”

“However, thanks to the information that will be gained from this project, we will have the opportunity to share a far more informed and holistic view of how the suit was worn and used,” Lewis says.

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So why can’t the Smithsonian pay its own way? Although the museum receives federal funding, most of those tax dollars goes toward operating expenses, which can top $1 billion in a single year.

“Federal appropriations cover approximately 64 cents of every dollar needed by the Smithsonian. Private philanthropy, including this Kickstarter campaign, help to bridge the gap between the federal resources the Smithsonian receives and what it needs to carry out innovative research, digitize its collections, open exhibitions, and expand educational outreach,” she says. “In short, you play a vital role in helping us achieve our goals.”

+ Reboot the Suit on Kickstarter

+ National Air and Space Museum

[Via Slate]