During the first two Moon landings, astronauts did not have access to drinking water unless they returned to the lander. Starting with Apollo 13, however, spacesuits were equipped with a new accessory: an in-suit Teflon bag with a drinking tube. These drinking devices are the predecessor to today's CamelBak water bottles.
One of the most fragile and unique artifacts traveling with SITES' new Suited for Space exhibition is a rare example of these early drinking devices. Although the device has been stored in a climate-controlled environment since being acquired by the Smithsonian, it has deteriorated over the past 30 years. The object is so fragile, in fact, that conservators from the National Air and Space Museum expect it to have disintegrated almost entirely by the time the national tour of Suited is complete.
So, you might wonder, if the object is in such precarious condition, why is it traveling at all? Smithsonian conservators are closely monitoring this artifact to learn about its deterioration process. After the Suited tour, the artifact will be de-accessioned and studied in more detail. Conservators will take what they learn from the gradual deterioration of the drinking device and use it to improve their conservation of other artifacts made from similar materials. The visible deterioration of this device over time reinforces the importance of artifact conservation and helps visitors better understand why photographs and x-rays of spacesuits--rather than the fragile objects themselves--are included in the exhibition.
Suited for Space will be on tour for several years. There is also a facebook page with tons of extras. The national tour of Suited for Space is generously sponsored by DuPont.
--Robin Meyer, SITES publications intern