- The Washington Times - Monday, July 20, 2015

This could be one small step for a museum, one giant leap for museum shows: The Smithsonian Institution is teaming with the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to preserve and present the spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong when he stepped onto the moon.

On Monday, the National Air and Space Museum, a Smithsonian subsidiary, announced the Kickstarter “Reboot the Suit” campaign, which aims to raise $500,000 in 30 days to restore and display the spacesuit in time for the 50th anniversary of Armstrong’s moon landing in 2019. It will be placed in a permanent exhibit the following year.

“This suit represents one of the greatest achievements in the history of the United States of America,” said John R. Dailey, director of the museum. “By supporting us now, it will ensure that we have this suit preserved for future generations.”

About 60 percent of the funding for the 169-year-old Smithsonian comes from the federal government, amounting to $819.5 million in fiscal 2015, according to the institution’s website. The rest of its funds come from the Smithsonian’s business operations and private donations, but officials says that isn’t enough.

“The Smithsonian does get a lot of federal funding, but it only covers a percentage of our operating costs, like keeping our buildings running,” said Alison Mitchell, a public affairs specialist at the Air and Space Museum. “Anything we want to do to further our mission has always been possible by fundraising through private donations.”

“It’s sort of an experiment,” Ms. Mitchell said of the Kickstarter campaign. “We want to try something new. This is a way to get people involved in a grass-roots way.”

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This isn’t Kickstarter’s first foray into the arts since its founding in 2009. Last year, the online community of donors worked with the Museum of Modern Art in New York to develop products for MoMA’s Web-based retail design store. Kickstarter also has funded projects for the Kennedy Center, the Walker Art Center and the American Folk Art Museum.

What’s more, six Kickstarter-funded movies have been nominated for Academy Awards, and more than 89,000 other creative projects have been made possible via the crowdfunding platform.

The “Reboot the Suit” campaign to conserve, digitize and display Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit kicks off a series of Kickstarter-supported projects that the Smithsonian plans to pursue in coming months. The suit has been locked away in storage units since 2006 to prevent deterioration, “but now the technology exists to bring it back to its former glory,” according to Phil Plait, an astronomer and science blogger on the Smithsonian project team tasked with restoring the suit.

Armstrong, who died in 2012, became the first person to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.

As of Monday afternoon, the Kickstarter campaign had raised more than $80,000 from more than 1,050 backers, an encouraging start for a project that still has 29 days to reach its $500,000 target.

“The Apollo 11 spacesuit is one of our most recognized and iconic artifacts,” Ms. Mitchell said. “We’re very confident people will rally around this project.”

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