RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Apollo 11 capsule took astronauts to the first moon landing and back. It is now a priceless museum artifact. Later this year, it'll go on tour around the country for the first time in over 40 years. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports that before that happens, it has to undergo a painstaking restoration.
NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: The Apollo 11 command module spent four decades on display in the main lobby of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. Occasionally, workers would open up its plexiglass case to look it over or put in new lighting.
LISA YOUNG: But it never really went under a full examination or investigative analysis as to all of the certain materials on there, how stable they are.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Lisa Young is a conservator at the museum who's trying to make sure this capsule doesn't deteriorate. She's working on it now in a restoration hangar outside of Washington, D.C.
YOUNG: And our big job as conservators right now is to figure out if we're going to put it back on display permanently, what could be happening to it in 50 years?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Inside the capsule, for example, the adhesives used to stick velcro to the walls are becoming more crumbly and losing elasticity.
YOUNG: So it's starting to have things pop off. So we want to go back in and make sure that all the adhesives remain stable.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Same with the mint-green paint on those walls. It's starting to flake. Another job on the to-do list, salt removal. The capsule did splash down in the ocean after all.
YOUNG: Salts embed themselves in materials and then creep out later.
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GREENFIELDBOYCE: And then there's the dust. Young holds a vacuum near the charred heat shield. She uses a small paintbrush to gently sweep off dust.
YOUNG: So you actually just want to loosen the dust so it becomes airborne and goes into the vacuum.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: How long will it take to clean this thing?
YOUNG: Probably like a month just for the surfaces, and then I'll be probably doing a little bit more on the top where we do corrosion removal and fabric repair.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Young says the point of all this cleaning and repair is preservation, not to make it look shiny and new.
YOUNG: One of the things, you know, about space objects that you want to make sure is that you leave all of its evidence from space.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: So the burn marks from its fiery re-entry and numbers scribbled by astronauts on the walls - all that stays. After the work is done, the Apollo 11 capsule will visit museums in Houston, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Seattle. Then it returns to the Smithsonian to be displayed in a brand new, environmentally controlled glass case. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.
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