HISTORY, CARE, AND HANDLING OF AMERICA'S SPACESUITS: PROBLEMS IN MODERN MATERIALS
MARY T. BAKER, & ED MCMANUS
4 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR STORAGE AND EXHIBITION
At the present time, spacesuits that are not on loan or exhibit are stored at the Garber Facility, where a large environmentally controlled “Bally Box” (a large, walk-in refrigerator constructed by Bally Case and Cooler, Inc.) has been constructed in one of the buildings. The relative humidity is maintained at 45% and the temperature at 50°F. The parameters were established prior to any materials research and represent a “best guess.” These conditions are considered to be acceptable for the present; further research will enable NASM to determine optimal parameters. The suits are stored in large double-door metal storage cabinets. Each suit rests horizontally on a shelf within the cabinet. The suits are stuffed with an inert material, spun polyester, to maintain their shape.
While these conditions represent a vast improvement to the previous conditions, there are still problems. It is known that certain spacesuit materials become brittle with time, even at reduced temperatures and stable relative humidities. Therefore, proper support for objects and minimal handling are very important. It is also known that other materials such as polyvinyl chloride will continue to degrade and to lose plasticizer, thereby contributing to the degradation of surrounding plastics.
Specific recommendations include:
- Preventive Conservation. Museums that have spacesuits in their collections or loan spacesuits to other museums should require that exhibit conditions meet the standards for materials that are moderately sensitive to visible light, which is an accumulated lifetime of 60,000 to 180,000 footcandle hours. This is approximately two to four years of exhibit time at 10 footcandles. Relative humidity should be maintained at approximately 45%. Spacesuits should not be exposed to UV radiation. If these conditions cannot be maintained, a reproduction spacesuit should be substituted for the original. Original spacesuits should not be placed on permanent exhibit.
- Loan Policy. Spacesuits should be loaned for reasonable periods of time, between three to five years. Spacesuit loans should not be extended beyond ten years. The loan agreement should identify the environmental requirements and the method of support and include the option to recall the loan if conditions cannot be met.
- Conservation Assessment. Conservation condition reports and photography should be prepared to document the existing condition of each suit.
- Supports. A spacesuit mannequin support system similar to the one discussed by textile conservators Ballard and Pledger (1989) should be required for each suit going on exhibit. The system consists of an inner structure of aluminum tubes articulated at faceted nodules. Aluminum bands give additional support and shape to the torso. This structure can be changed to achieve various postures. The aluminum framework supports segments of heavy gauge polyester screening covered with mattress padding and a tightly woven fabric that contribute form and support to each suit. This system permits adjustments that ensure proper fit. It is also comprised of inert materials.
- Research. We need to gather historic information about the design, construction, and testing of spacesuits. Time is of the essence because some of the companies that were involved with spacesuit research and development no longer exist, and the individuals who conducted that research are growing older. Materials research is also important to the understanding of the deterioration process. This information will enable us to develop better exhibit and storage strategies.