Spacesuits were built to withstand the harsh environment of space. Surprisingly, their materials aren’t holding up all that well here on Earth. Researchers from the National Air and Space Museum’s Space History Division have started an 18-month project to analyze Apollo-era spacesuits, including the pressure suit worn by Apollo 15 mission commander David R. Scott in 1971.
To assess the sometimes hidden degradation in each suit, scientists are performing CAT scans, which let them see inside the more than 20 layers of synthetic polymers and natural rubber.
They’re also inspecting the suits visually, testing their materials’ acidity, measuring fading and staining, and interviewing the original spacesuit designers. By August 2001, the team will have new guidelines for storing and handling the suits, which represent some of the museum’s most frequently loaned artifacts.
Lisa Young of the National Air and Space Museum notes that museums contain objects that are 3,000 years old and seem to be holding up. “People didn’t really consider that the spacesuits would be deteriorating so quickly,” she says.