Why Spend $500,000 to Conserve Neil Armstrong's Spacesuit?

26/08/2015 8:47 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

July 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Why am I raising this with four years to go? Because it was this month that the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC joined with Kickstarter -- a crowdfunding website -- to raise funds to conserve and display the spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong on that historic mission.

It took only a matter of days for them to reach the $500,000 target. Mission accomplished. With more than 8,000 backers, now they're pushing on with a stretch target of $700,000.

It really shouldn't be surprising that people around the world have been so quick to support this cause, especially when you consider the magnitude of the achievement, and how many of us were glued to our black and white television sets back in 1969 to witness Neil Armstrong take his historic first step.

Nostalgia aside, what else could be motivating this intense interest in a spacesuit lying in disrepair in an American museum? I know why I pledged my support for the project -- but why so many others?

In my case, a few years back I had the extraordinary privilege of spending time with and interviewing Neil Armstrong. He spoke passionately about how the vision came together with the science and technology expertise of NASA to enable him and his colleagues to travel to the moon and return home safely. What I saw was a man passionate about innovation and how STEM -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -- is at the heart of all great innovations around the world.

It is the courage, conviction and belief Neil Armstrong and NASA showed by sending a man to the moon that we all should marvel at. This is the type of inspiration we need for our students so they also look ahead and dare to dream.

I am often asked why Neil Armstrong agreed to be interviewed by an Australian accountant. The answer is our lunchtime meeting in Beaver Creek in Dayton, Ohio, where I lamented that we seemed to have lost touch with his era where the world was then 90 percent vision, ten percent risk management. I noted that with all the sophistication of today, we have somehow reversed that percentage and encouraged him to share his insights to inspire future generations.

Neil's spacesuit is emblematic of vision and courage.

Preserving it is a timely reminder that the imbalance between risk management and vision needs to be addressed.

Whether it's in America, Australia, Europe or China we all know that too few young people are signing-up for STEM subjects, and that a lack of STEM skills is holding back our science and technology capacities and our ability to innovate.

I think there's a very clear message in the fact the Smithsonian, established way back in 1846, would look to partner with Kickstarter -- an online, crowdfunding organisation -- an innovator in their own right, to raise these funds.

Innovative thinking supporting an innovate approach to capital raising which allows people like me in Australia, or anywhere in the world, to get involved in real time -- and all to shine a light on what innovation can be.

I hope that as we get closer to the 50th anniversary of the historic moon landing that Commander Armstrong's preserved suit at the Smithsonian not only shows what has been achieved, but will act as a lasting inspiration for generations to come to take up the challenge to dream and experience the amazing opportunities that skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math can provide.


Alex Malley is chief executive of CPA Australia

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