In the 60 years given that they made history, astronaut Alan Shepard’s spacesuit and Mercury capsule logged more miles than they did on the first U.S. human spaceflight. Now, 6 years after they flew, the Smithsonian is preparing both artifacts for their first long-lasting exhibit together.
Launched on May 5, 1961, Shepard’s Mercury-Redstone 3 suborbital objective reached simply 115 miles (185 kilometers) high, however the 15-minute flight marked a considerable action towards the U.S. overtaking the Soviet Union, which had actually sent out the first satellite and the first human into space. Sometimes ignored for the longer objectives that followed, Shepard’s accomplishment on “Freedom 7” — the name he provided his spacecraft — set the phase for the race to the moon.
“This was our earliest space trip in America, and that is a very pivotal moment in history,” stated Raina Chao, a conservator at the National Air and Space Museum. “We had pivotal moments in flight, and here was the first one in space.”
On Wednesday (May 5), the 60th anniversary of its launch, Freedom 7 was set to launching on short-term show and tell at the Smithsonian’s freshly resumed Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. Next year, the capsule and Shepard’s spacesuit will belong to the brand-new “Destination Moon” irreversible gallery at the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall.
In pictures: Freedom 7, America’s 1st Human Spaceflight
Infographic: America’s first spaceship: Project Mercury
Four months after Freedom 7 crashed, NASA moved the spacecraft to the Smithsonian. For the next 4 years, through 1965, the capsule was shown at the Arts & Industries Building in Washington. It then left the nation for displays at the Science Museum in London, the Royal Scottish Museum, the World’s Fair in Montreal and the Osaka Expo in Japan.
Freedom 7 went back to Washington in 1971, and remained in location in the (now-former) “Apollo to the Moon” gallery for the opening of the Air and Space Museum in 1976. It stayed there for 20 years and after that went to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland — Shepard’s university — for one month prior to being kept in storage for 2 years. In July 1998, the capsule briefly went back to show and tell at the Air and Space Museum as a memorial to Shepard, who had actually simply passed away of leukemia at the age of 74.
Freedom 7 then invested 14 years in the lobby of the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center at the Naval Academy prior to relocating to Boston to go on show at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in 2012. Finally, it came to the Udvar-Hazy Center in October 2020, to go through preservation for its future “Destination Moon” display screen.
“I found it to be in remarkably good condition,” stated Chao, who examined Freedom 7 after its most current journey. “We were all pleasantly surprised about its condition — particularly about its exterior.”
The interior of the capsule, however, revealed some indications of deterioration. The foam that formed Shepard’s assistance sofa has actually ended up being delicate and is fragmenting.
“I was particularly concerned about the fragmented foam, because any time you move any form of artifact, it’s really impossible to prevent vibration, and anything that fragile we just wanted to make sure we weren’t losing more of it,” Chao stated in an interview with collectSPACE. “So I lined all of the edges of that cushion.”
“The feet had been lined with tape, seemingly originally, so I took inspiration from that and used a toned paper tissue to line all the edges,” she stated. “So at least the foam in its fragile state will stay inside that capsule of cushion and not get jostled with vibration and spread out as dust around the capsule.”
Chao established scaffolding to support her as she worked within Freedom 7. Despite being a space history lover, she had little issue withstanding the desire to get in and sit where Shepard had actually been 60 years back. Beyond being a really tight fit, there was likewise a noticeable odor.
“It has a kind of new shoe smell, that subtle chemical smell of things that are off-gassing,” stated Chao. “It was not overpowering, probably because the hatch is not present, so it hasn’t been concentrating inside the capsule. So it’s a recognizable smell, but I didn’t feel like I was going to need a respirator.”
The Mercury 7 astronauts: NASA’s first space tourists
Suit-able for display screen
Shepard’s silvery Mercury pressure suit followed a various course after its usage. It stayed NASA residential or commercial property up until March 1973, when its title was moved to the Smithsonian. Even after the modification in ownership, however, the spacesuit stayed at NASA’s Johnson Space Center through 1995 and after that was put on show at the nearby Space Center Houston through October 2000.
The garment then went off show and tell and was lent to the National Museum of American History’s fabric laboratory for research study prior to being saved in storage for 2 years. In 2008, the suit went on show at the American History Museum up until coming to the Udvar-Hazy in 2019.
“I think Shepard’s suit, amazingly — maybe because it has been left alone longer — has actually shown better preservation than some of the other Mercury suits that I have seen,” stated Lisa Young, supervisory conservator at the National Air and Space Museum. “The coating is much more well adhered to the exterior surfaces.”
“Even though we had it on display longer, because it was at American History for a long time on display, people haven’t been handling the materials, and that does help keep the suit from getting physically distressed,” Young informed collectSPACE.
Like Freedom 7, there were locations that required to be secured from additional breaking down. The rubber neck dam, for instance, which held the suit’s linking ring to the helmet, had a huge tear in it.
“I think that was just because of age,” stated Young. “The polymers are starting to degrade and harden, and so it had gotten a tear.”
Similar to what was provided for the foam in the capsule, conservation-safe tissues were first color matched and after that set into the rubber to include any pieces that may fall apart and separate.
“So the suit can continue to be flexible and folded in the configuration you would have for the neck ring, but the public won’t see it,” Young stated.
Shepard’s pressure suit will go on display screen in the brand-new “Destination Moon” gallery nearby to Freedom 7, each in their own display screen cases. A crowdfunding effort in 2015 financed both the preservation and display screen of Shepard’s suit.
“There isn’t one person who we talk to and tell that we are working on the suit and Freedom 7 who isn’t excited, and I think that helps our jobs a lot,” stated Young. (*60*)
Click through to collectSPACE to see more pictures of Alan Shepard’s suit and Freedom 7 Mercury capsule going through preparation at the Smithsonian.
Follow collectSPACE.com on Facebook and on Twitter at @collectSPACE. Copyright 2021 collectSPACE.com. All rights booked.