A white bag discovered in astronaut Neil Armstrong’s closet has been found to contain previously unknown artifacts from the Apollo 11 lander that brought he and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the moon in 1969.
Armstrong’s widow, Carol, reportedly discovered the bag after his 2012 death. The McDivitt Purse, named after Apollo 9 Commander Jim McDivitt, was designed by NASA to hold miscellaneous items, according to Gizmodo. After uncovering it, Carol Armstrong contacted Allan Needell, curator of the Apollo collection at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, who immediately recognized the purse.
— SmithsonianAirSpace (@airandspace) February 6, 2015
The bag contained a number of parts from the Eagle, Apollo 11’s lunar module. Utility lights, brackets, wrenches, sights used to align the spacecraft, and Armstrong’s waist tether were all within, along with a film camera that was used to capture Apollo 11’s descent onto the lunar surface. While all of the items are of priceless historical value, NASA asserts that the 16mm camera with its 10mm lens is a particularly important artifact.
“The camera was mounted behind the right forward window of the lunar module and was used to film the final phase of the descent to the lunar surface, the landing, as well as Neil Armstrong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s activities on the lunar surface including taking the first samples of lunar soil and planting the US flag.”
Armstrong seemingly kept the purse a secret for over 40 years, making no mention of it even when questioned by his biographer. As CollectSpace points out, Armstrong didn’t sneak the bag back from the moon, and can be heard referencing it three times on recordings from the iconic mission. The purse was transferred from the Eagle to Columbia, Apollo 11’s command module, at which point Armstrong mentioned it to pilot Michael Collins.
“That [is] just a bunch of trash that we want to take back — LM parts, odds and ends,” Armstrong said.
It is unclear how the bag came to be in Armstrong’s possession after the astronauts’ return to Earth. It was not uncommon at the time, however, for astronauts to retain small parts of their capsules as mementos of their missions.
Two of the objects, the tether and camera, are already on display at the National Air and Space Museum as part of a new exhibit. While the purse and its contents are currently on extended loan to the Smithsonian, Neil Armstrong’s estate intends to eventually donate them to the museum.
[Image via NASA]