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Space suit preservation

You might think that the space suits astronauts wore during the famous missions of the 1960’s and 70s might be invincible, but apparently they are already starting to deteriorate…and fast. Now the National Air & Space Museum is scrambling to find a way to preserve them.

The more than 270 space suits remaining from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions are fighting many problems: The salty, leftover sweat of overheated astronauts is corroding the suits’ aluminum components. Fungus is growing deep inside the outfits’ two dozen or so layers of nylon fabric. And many essential plastic and rubber parts are turning brown and brittle, says Lisa Young, a conservation scientist at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum (NASM), which hosts the world’s largest collection of U.S. space suits.

As these artifacts of cultural heritage inch toward their half-century birthdays, museum scientists are scrambling to find a way for the public to enjoy the suits for many moons to come.

A lot of the materials used to build space suits have inherent vices that make the artifacts prone to degradation. But the suits’ adventures in the years after their NASA missions were over have actually accelerated aging, Young says.

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Story: Sarah Everts, Chemical & Engineering News| Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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