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Smithsonian Resorts To Kickstarter to Restore Armstrong Spacesuit

The museum just launched its first Kickstarter campaign, giving us a look at a new way public institutions can raise money.

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The Smithsonian and Kickstarter are joining forces to take one small step for the preservation of historical artifacts.

On Monday, the Smithsonian launched a Kickstarter campaign — its first on the 6-year-old crowd-funding site — to restore, 3D scan, and display Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 spacesuit. The suit spent two and a half hours on the surface of the moon; it's an auspicious first Kickstarter campaign for the Smithsonian.

Museum management hopes to raise $500,000 in the next month — enough to prepare the suit for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 2019. This is the first of several planned Kickstarter-funded campaigns for the institution, according to Yoonhyung Lee, the Smithsonian's director of digital media philanthropy.

The Smithsonian is only partially funded by federal appropriations — everything else has to come from private donors, corporate sponsors, and foundation grants. Right now, the museum has enough money to safely store the spacesuit, but not restore or display it. So, it's reaching out for donations. It's a high-profile project for the museum to take to crowdfunding, but the Smithsonian is hoping it will attract a new kind of donor.

"We want to reach people everywhere," Lee told BuzzFeed News. The museum, she said, is very reliant on recurring donations from longtime museum members — but she and her team hope that a new generation of donors will emerge from among the 9 million people who have backed projects on Kickstarter.

Partnering with a crowdfunding site also changes the funder-fundee relationship, as sites like Kickstarter promise a different type of interaction with donors than institutions like the Smithsonian have traditionally provided. "We don't often fundraise for specific things," said Lee. "We have, but never quite like this, with specific rewards built in." Like most Kickstarter projects, this one offers rewards for various donation amounts: Donate $20 and receive a special decal, for example; pledge $2,000 and you get a behind-the-scenes tour of the ILC Dover factory where the suit was manufactured.

If it's able to raise the full $500,000, the Smithsonian will use the funds to restore Armstrong's spacesuit and construct an exhibit in the museum in which to display it. The institution also hopes to 3D-scan the suit in order to create a full digital replica of it. That scan will also figure into the Smithsonian's fundraising: one of the donor rewards the institution offers is a 3D scan map of Armstrong's glove, so donors can "make [their] own 3D print" before it becomes available online.

Brendan Klinkenberg is a tech reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

Contact Brendan Klinkenberg at brendan.klinkenberg@buzzfeed.com.

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