The Right Stuff to Wear

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SUITLAND, Md. — Stashed in a Smithsonian storage building in this Washington suburb are some of the engineering wonders of the space race.

These marvels are far smaller than the towering rockets and streamlined spacecraft that took men into orbit and to the Moon. Far softer, too. They are the spacesuits that kept the astronauts alive beyond Earth.

Most of the National Air and Space Museum’s collection of about 300 spacesuits is here, laid out five high on steel racks in a climate-controlled room. Each is protected by a sheet of muslin, giving the room the eerie feel of a morgue or the final resting place of members of an odd space cult.

There are Mercury suits like the one worn by Scott Carpenter, the fourth American in space, its iconic reflective coating coming off in spots. There’s the Apollo 11 suit worn by Neil A. Armstrong, looking about as pristine as when he made his first small step on the moon in 1969, thanks to a cleaning job by NASA that, in retrospect, was ill advised because it damaged the materials the suit was made of. Nearby lies Harrison H. Schmitt’s Apollo 17 outfit, still heavily coated in lunar grit....

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