Hotel room cleaning leads to surprising discoveries

Cleanup crews at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama recently cleaned the Apollo 16 spacecraft for the 50th anniversary of his April 1972 flight, Minnesota Public Radio reports. But they purposely did not leave him unblemished.

The space capsule was dusty from years of display in the museum, with cobwebs clinging to its surface. Crews used microfiber towels, extension poles, brushes and vacuums to clean the 6.5-tonne, nearly 11-foot-tall capsule and its glass enclosure. They removed dozens of items people had stuck through the cracks in the case, including business cards, a pencil, coins, a spoon and a tube of lip balm.

When the museum first received the capsule, visitors could touch the spacecraft, and some even removed pieces of the charred heat shield that kept the craft from burning up as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere. Conservationists soon realized that a spacecraft built to withstand the rigors of space travel didn’t hold up well to constant tourist contact, so they placed it in a sealed enclosure.

Workers plan to further seal the capsule’s casing, so visitors can’t drop anything inside, but cleaners were careful not to overdo it on Apollo 16 itself. Rubbing it would remove important traces of history, including the astronauts’ fingerprints and handprints that are visible as dark spots inside the capsule.

“You don’t want to lose any of this, because it’s all part of the mission saga. If you clean it up, it’s gone,” said Ed Steward, a consultant conservator who oversaw the cleanup crew.

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