Neil Armstrong’s historic Apollo 11 spacesuit has been painstakingly restored by the Smithsonian Museum, with the help of 3D optical scanning and CT scanning.
The restoration took place ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission launch and used technology unavailable when the Apollo 11 crew flew to the moon in July 1969.
The spacesuits worn by Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin & Mike Collins have been kept at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC since their return, but time has taken its toll on the historic garments.
The restoration work began in 2015, with the team beginning work on the gloves of the suit. X-ray images recorded the suit’s condition and allowed the inner parts to be examined. The museum’s restoration team also used CT (Computed Tomography) scanning to survey the suit’s interior elements.
A modular, 3D-printed mannequin was created not only to physically support the suit when it goes on display but also to form part of an air circulation system designed to reduce unwanted gases emitted by degradation of the suit’s materials.
In addition to preserving the physical suit, the Smithsonian has also digitised it to preserve a record of the suit and make it accessible to people around the world. Structured light 3D scanning was used to map the garment’s basic structure and colour, before the team used laser arm scanning to record more detailed surface geometry.
Combining the data with CT scans enabled the team to create a 3D animation of the suit. Photogrammetry was then used to add colour details, with hundreds of photos taken from different angles tied together using specialised software.
In autumn, the museum will start a similar conservation project on the spacesuit worn by Alan Shepard when he became the first American in space on 5 May 1961. And in future, similar work will take place on the suits of Armstrong’s Apollo 11 crew mates Aldrin and Collins.
The suit went on temporary public display in July for the anniversary of the Apollo moon flight and will eventually become the centrepiece of the museum’s upcoming ‘Destination Moon’ exhibition, which should open in 2022.