After a nearly 500,000-mile roundtrip to the moon, Apollo 11 splashed down safely in the Pacific on July 24, 1969, about 812 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii. The astronauts donned biological isolation garments because NASA and others were concerned about lunar viruses, which later proved to be a false worry.
The spacesuit remained in the command module spacecraft, which was first taken to Hawaii and then to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, the lunar program’s hub. After contamination checks, the three astronaut spacesuits (including Armstrong’s) were then removed and checked for wear and tear, their ability to maintain pressure in a vacuum, and other engineering aspects.
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According to Lewis, this helped NASA improve spacesuit construction later in the Apollo moon program. By the last mission — Apollo 17 in 1972 — lunar spacesuits were rated as able to withstand three hard days of activity. By comparison, Armstrong’s spacesuit was only used on the moon for 2.5 hours.
Once NASA finished the engineering examinations of Armstrong’s spacesuit, it went on a 51-city tour between 1969 and 1970 of the capitals of the United States plus the District of Columbia. The spacesuits of Armstrong and his crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were inserted with mannequins and placed inside the Columbia spacecraft for visitors to see them up close.
NASA then offered Armstrong’s spacesuit to the Smithsonian in 1971, where it was on display until 2001. Lewis and her staff are now doing everything that they can to ensure that the suit remains on public view for as long as possible.
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