Apollo 11 is possibly the most iconic and well-known image of America’s quest to understand the moon. Less than a year before the ill-fated Apollo 13 attempted to duplicate Apollo 11’s historic mission, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins successfully completed the first ever moon landing in Apollo 11.
NPR reports that Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins shared the cramped living space in Apollo 11’s command module, Columbia, for the eight days of their moon landing mission. They traveled the “nearly 1 million mile journey to the moon and back” in that section of Apollo 11, and it brought them safely home from their world-changing voyage.
“This is the spacecraft that brought the three astronauts home from the first landing on the moon, so it’s one of the Smithsonian’s most important artifacts.”
Now, that same module is going on another kind of mission. Apollo 11’s command module, Columbia, is going to launch a trip to American museums. The two-year tour will celebrate the Apollo 11 voyage’s upcoming 50th anniversary in 2019 in a tour called “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission.” Apollo will visit Houston, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh, and will land in Seattle at the Museum of Flight for the actual anniversary of the module’s safe landing on earth on July 20, 1969.
The tour will be the first time in more than 40 years that the module has left Washington, D.C. and the first time ever that Apollo 11 has left the Smithsonian.
Most of the time Apollo 11’s command module remains in the secure space at Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, which opened to the public in 1976. Myriam Springuel is the director of the service that is responsible for the tour. USA Today reports that Springuel believes this tour is a privilege and an honor for the museum and staff who will accompany the module. He says that the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service is “privileged to take it across the country and to share it with the people who own this object, which are the citizens of the United States.”
“It represents one of the great achievements of mankind.”
People have been excited for years about the Apollo 11 moon landing so the 50th anniversary will be a huge celebration.
This weekend marked 45 years since Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and I am SO excited about this its embarrassing!
— Tash (@TandSerendipity) July 21, 2014
The tour organizers will take the command module and many important objects that were part of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Visitors to the four museums across the country will get to see Aldrin’s own helmet and gloves that he wore on his moonwalk after the historic landing, and they will also see Collin’s watch. The watch is especially meaningful because it marked the “lonely time” when Collins remained orbiting the moon waiting for Aldrin and Armstrong to finish their exploration of the moon’s surface.
There will also be the box, known simply as the “rock box,” that carried those precious first ever samples from a “heavenly body.”
“People in those areas can get up close and personal with this unbelievable artifact.”
The exhibit will include an interactive, 3D tour of both the interior and exterior of the capsule, but unfortunately, the capsule itself won’t be open for people to go inside and experience exactly how it felt for the three astronauts. The interactive aspect will let everyone see “the famous graffiti” that was the first thing Collins did after safely landing the module. He wrote, “The Best Ship to Come Down the Line… God Bless Her.”
To make this “once in a lifetime opportunity” land, the museums had to submit plans and engineering specs. Organizers needed to ensure that each building was strong enough to hold the module and the rest of the exhibit, as well as secure enough to keep Apollo 11 safe.
“It’s a very special artifact. And it does weigh a lot. The command module, on its traveling ring, is over 13,600 pounds.”
[Featured Image by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]