Jun 17, 2016 | By Alec

As regular Kickstarter followers might remember, a remarkable campaign appeared online a little less than a year ago. While Kickstarter is usually home to startups and innovative makers who have developed something extraordinary in their garage, the Smithsonian Institution appeared on the crowdfunding website in July 2015. With the help of more than 9,000 backers, they were able to raise more than $700,000 to conserve, digitize, and display an iconic artefact of human history: the spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 Moon landing. That digitization process is well underway, and the Smithsonian revealed that the 3D printable glove files will be made available to all backers in the near future.

This special digitization campaign did not come out of nowhere, but was launched in anticipation of a remarkable event. In July 2019, it will have been 50 years since the greatest achievement in the history of mankind was realized: the Apollo 11 Moon landing and Neil Armstrong becoming the first man to set foot on the Moon. The past two generations of engineers and scientists have all found inspiration in that remarkable achievement, and the Smithsonian is planning a huge 50th anniversary intended to do the same for the next generation of young space explorers.

But of all the events planned, this digitization project is perhaps the most remarkable of all. “3D scanning the Armstrong spacesuit gives us the chance to put the suit directly into your hands,” the museum said at the time. “With a 3D scan of the suit, you can take a self-guided tour and explore the functions of each of the suit’s 21 layers. Teachers will have a dynamic new tool for talking about the technology required for living and working in space. 3D scanning also ensures that our conservators and curators have an accurate picture of the suit in its current condition, helping to monitor and preserve the suit and protect it from further deterioration.”

While such a digital tour will surely be amazing, the most remarkable part of this project is the Smithsonian’s intention to realize an share 3D printable replicas of Armstrong’s glove, which you can 3D print at home and wear yourself. This extraordinary possibility is what convinced many of the backers to fund this project in the first place. And those backers will be happy to know that the project is well underway, as spacesuit conservator Lisa Young just revealed.

As the conservator revealed, they started 3D-scanning the gloves in April together with colleagues from the Smithsonian Digitization Program Office (DPO). High-resolution photogrammetry alone took two days. “The two-step process allows us to provide a 3D view of both the exterior and interior of the gloves for the first time, as well as provide data that will be useful in several ways,” she says. “First and foremost, the collection of high-resolution data and imagery that is being assembled gives the Museum more information on the gloves, the shape and morphology of the materials, as well as providing us condition information to archive as a permanent record of the gloves at this moment in time.”

In the future, she revealed, the data will also be used to assess the condition of the suit and gloves, enabling the Smithsonian’s conservators to monitor the suit without needing to handle it personally or even take it out of the exhibit. What’s more, the same data will also be used to create a digital gallery on the Smithsonian website, who have already partnered with the National Air and Space Museum and other Smithsonian museums to realize virtual tours on their new website browser. Some of their progress can already be viewed here.

While some might’ve hoped for a quick scan, Young further revealed that an incredible amount of valuable data is being assembled and that simply takes a lot of time. “In order to build a mannequin support to put Neil Armstrong’s suit back on display we need to be able to measure, examine, and support every inch of the suit interior. By working on the gloves first and refining our techniques for imagery and digitization of these objects, useful data is being collected both on the gloves themselves as well as the imaging process so we will be more prepared to work on the suit next year,” Young said.

Right now, however, all of the focus is on the 3D glove data, which the Smithsonian hopes to share with their Kickstarter backers in the very near future. The final files will enable users, they say, to 3D print their very own version of Neil Armstrong’s EVA glove. Of course these gloves can have so many uses, and Young is already envisioning using 3D prints to teach students all about spacesuits. But of course you can also simply put it on display, if you want. So when can it be expected? While Young gave no exact date, she did imply the files should be finished later this year, adding that more exciting news will follow later this summer. We can’t wait.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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