Moon landing 50th anniversary brought to life in 3D print by team that includes Marin County firm
San Francisco Giants fans are lining up at Oracle Park these days, looking for the chance to get a picture – not with a player, but with a painstakingly recreated statue of the spacesuit used by Neil Armstrong to walk on the Moon 50 years ago.
The suit, one of 15 on display at major league parks, is the result of a collaboration which included the National Air and Space Museum and Scansite 3D, a San Rafael-based 3D technology company with previous projects including creating props for the movies.
“I was 10 years old when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. I remember it so vividly. It’s the only time in my life when the entire world just stopped and took notice. I feel really fortunate to have been a part of this,” said Lisa Federici, CEO and co-founder of Scansite 3D.
The 12-person Francisco Boulevard firm, located a few miles from Skywalker Ranch, worked with artists from Lake County and Sacramento as well as Form 3D Foundry, a Portland-based studio and fabricator. Together, the group worked to create a statue of the suit using computer-generated models to produce astronaut-sized molds. The effort was part of the Museum’s “Apollo at the Park” campaign.
Explaining the creation process
In December 2018, Scansite learned the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum had selected it to undertake the project. From then on, Scansite was on a tight schedule, especially with the federal government shutdown that lasted from December to January.
The statues were created through several steps. First, the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office scanned the suit in Washington, D.C. The office then sent large data files of the 3D scan to Scansite. Scansite edited the data supplied by the office, then used specialized software to reduce the file to a manageable size that could be handled by Form 3D Foundry. Scansite also cleaned up the data. Form 3D Foundry separated the data file into 16 smaller sections. It printed them in a porous acrylic material that was infused with epoxy resin afterwards.
Next, Form 3D Foundry assembled a “master model” of the space suit. This model served as the mold for all the statues through a process called rotocasting. From that mold, Wesco Enterprises, a Sacramento company, rotocast the 15 statues.
Three artists hired by Scansite then hand-painted all of the statues. Finally, Keith Monument Company of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, affixed a granite base to each statue. Keith Monument Company also facilitated installation of the statues at the MLB ballparks.
Scansite served as the primary contractor on the project, with all parties except the National Air and Space Museum under its umbrella.
Challenges in making the suit
Making the statues accurate and durable required patience.
Libby Carruth, lead sculptor for Form 3D Foundry, said her company’s task was to print and assemble the master model for the statues.
“We started building it (the master model) on a table, but once we got to the hips and waist, we stood it up on the ground. At one point, a ball bearing from a tool fell into the partially assembled model. We had to hold it upside down and shake it out, like shaking change out of a pants pocket,” said Carruth.
Carruth said the finished master model was very light, “only about 50 pounds.”