News / USA

Where Old Spacesuits End Up

Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum preserves the iconic artifacts for future generations

These experimental suits - along with suits that were used in space - are stored in a climate-controlled facility outside of Washington, DC.
These experimental suits - along with suits that were used in space - are stored in a climate-controlled facility outside of Washington, DC.

Multimedia

Six astronauts lifted off on one of NASA's final space shuttle flights this week. During Discovery’s 11-day mission, the crew will conduct two spacewalks to do maintenance and install equipment. Spacewalks have become pretty routine, but they would not have been possible without a remarkable bit of engineering.

No one appreciates the  technology and design of the spacesuit more than Dr. Joseph Kerwin, who in 1973, was one of the first astronauts to conduct in-space repairs. He and  fellow astronaut Pete Conrad fixed a jammed solar panel on the Skylab space station.

Astronaut Joseph Kerwin suits up.
Astronaut Joseph Kerwin suits up.

That would not have been possible without the spacesuit, which Kerwin describes as "a little spacecraft." The suit provided protection from meteorites and vacuum. It circulated oxygen, removed carbon dioxide, kept the astronauts cool, provided communication and enough mobility to do the job.


Kerwin says it took some getting used to it initially. "The first time you put it on, it takes a while and you need help to get the zippers zipped, and when you are inside it doesn’t quite fit properly,and then they inflate it and you can hardly move." But he says after spending 1000 hours training, including sessions under water and in a vacuum chamber, "you own that suit."

Not in the literal sense. All suits which have returned from space, more than 200 of them, belong to the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum.

"In the days when I worked here, it was about one third of the collection was on display both here and at museums around the world at any given time," says Amanda Young, a retired curator and author of "Spacesuits: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Collection."

In addition to flown suits, the museum has gloves, helmets and other ancillary equipment. Most are stored at a facility 10 kilometers from Washington, in a room where humidity and temperature are carefully controlled. Kerwin’s suit is here. So is that of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon. There are suits from the earlier Mercury missions, and several experimental suits which were never used. Stored on shelves, they are shrouded under protective covering.

All suits which have returned from space, more than 200 of them, belong to the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum.
All suits which have returned from space, more than 200 of them, belong to the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum.

"We have discovered that they are extremely fragile. They are very heavy," says Young. "It is sort of a lifetime’s work preserving them, because at the time they were made - because of the rush of the program requirements - it wasn’t really a consideration what to do with them when they came back."

It was up to Young to figure that out, which she painstakingly did. Thanks to her efforts and those of her successors, spacesuits will be around for generations - an out-of-this-world legacy that endures here on earth.

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid