IN FOCUS: Moving many of aviation history's most precious artefacts to new home at Udvar-Hazy

Washington DC
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The Apollo programme spacesuits began arriving one-by-one on 6 December in a container normally used to transport coffins. Astronaut Harrison "Jack" Schmitt's extra-vehicular garb was scheduled to arrive first, still covered in Apollo 17 moon dust after almost 40 years of storage. Schmitt's spacesuit - along with about 65,000 of aerospace history's most precious artefacts - has been assigned a new home.

It will take five to seven years, but the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is moving a massive collection of artefacts from an ageing warehouse complex in Maryland to a new restoration and storage complex attached to the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport.

The move is a massive logistical undertaking. To prepare for the transfer, the Smithsonian completed 13,000 condition reports on its collection during 18 months, says Samantha Snell, a collections project specialist.

The $78 million facility, christened the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar to honour a $16 million donation by the Engen family, opened in September and will become the largest facility of its kind in the world.

SNOWSTORM DAMAGE

The new space features environmentally controlled storage rooms and a separate room for researchers and scientists to study artefacts. In the old facility, the entire area was open to visitors, increasing the risk some items could become contaminated or damaged.

One part of the previous building - the Paul E Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility - was damaged in a snowstorm in February 2010. A roof partially collapsed in the section housing the Smithsonian's aviation art collection, breaching several containers. The art collection was one of the first items in the Smithsonian's aerospace collection transferred to the Udvar-Hazy Center, where the paintings will be stored in a controlled climate.

In addition to small- and medium-sized artefacts, the Garber facility also housed the remains of dozens of historic aircraft. Several have been moved into the Engen hangar, including the only surviving Sikorsky JRS-1 flying boat, a Douglas SBD dive bomber, the Lippisch DM-1 delta wing and Japan's jet-powered Nakajima Kikka.

The Smithsonian's restoration crews will soon begin work on the aircraft, starting with the SBD. Meanwhile, visitors to the Udvar-Hazy museum will be able to look down on the hangar floor and watch the restoration staff create new artefacts for display.

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