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Smithsonian embraces crowdfunding to preserve lunar spacesuit

[WASHINGTON] The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum turned to Kickstarter on Monday to raise US$500,000 to restore the spacesuit that Neil Armstrong wore when he became the first man to walk on the moon.

It marked the first time that any Smithsonian museum has embraced crowdfunding to help cover the cost of preserving its most valuable artifacts from the ravages of time.

Within hours, the "Reboot the Suit" campaign had raised nearly US$100,000 - but in line with Kickstarter rules, the project has to be fully funded by August 19 before pledges are collected from all backers.

Monday was the 46th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing and the Smithsonian hopes to have Mr Armstrong's white spacesuit and helmet ready for public viewing by the 50th anniversary in 2019.

The US government funds the upkeep of the Smithsonian's 19 museums and galleries as well as the cost of safeguarding their collections - but exhibitions and restorations depend largely on private donations.

Depending on how much they put in, backers of the Kickstarter appeal will receive incentives ranging from a NASA space mission patch to a printed 3D copy of Mr Armstrong's space glove.

Whoever puts in US$10,000 can be among 10 donors invited to see the moon suit at the Smithsonian's aerospace conservation lab, where its restoration is taking place, as soon as this November.

For Americans, contributions are tax-deductible.

The space suit is to be the first of several crowdfunding projects that the Smithsonian plans to roll out this year under a partnership with Kickstarter, said Yoonhyung Lee, the Smithsonian's director of digital philanthropy.

"The public will have the chance to directly contribute to specific Smithsonian projects and follow the creative process from fundraising through completion, regardless of their level of support," she said in a statement.

Mr Armstrong died in his native Ohio three years ago next month at the age of 82, but the Apollo 11 capsule in which he and two fellow astronauts traveled to the moon endures as a centerpiece of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington.

The most successful Kickstarter campaign of all time raised more than US$20 million for Pebble, a Taiwan-made smartwatch that went on sale this month, competing against the Apple Watch.

But perhaps the best known was a 2013 effort to bankroll a feature film version of the cult US detective mystery TV series "Veronica Mars." It met its US$2 million goal within 10 hours and ultimately reached US$5.7 million.