The folks at the Museum of Flight have done their level best to make their new Apollo exhibit that opened last weekend all about the people who made the Moon landings happen. But there’s no doubt that two enormous F-1 engines that launched people to the Moon dominate the gallery. One is an unused engine that towers 18 feet tall above the exhibit and weighs nine tons. The other is mangled parts of engines from Apollo 12 and Apollo 16 that flew to space, did belly flops from 40 miles above the Atlantic Ocean, and then spent more than forty years some three miles deep before being found and recovered by Bezos Expeditions.
The exhibit has been a couple of years in the making. Planning started with the opening of the museum’s Charles Simonyi Space Gallery the the acquisition of the Space Shuttle Trainer that is the centerpiece of that gallery. That moved the shuttle, post-shuttle, and looking to the future exhibits across the street, and gave museum staff the opportunity to create a new exhibit that focuses on the beginning of modern rocketry, the space race, the Moon landings, and the post-Apollo 1970s.
Geoff Nunn, adjunct curator for space history at the museum, said they had several objectives for the exhibit.
“We wanted to showcase the tremendous artifacts,” Nunn said at a press preview of Apollo. “We wanted to reintegrate the Pete Conrad collection into the broader story of the space race and the Moon landings. We wanted to showcase these incredible, one-of-a-kind artifacts that have been through so much in their life—through fire and, in the case of the Apollo 12 engines, lightning, and then impact with the sea floor and 40 years deep, deep under water.”
Indeed, the two Apollo engines provide an amazing before and after comparison, and there are other great artifacts on display. The exhibit also features:
- A production version of the Apollo command module that was used for training
- An engineering mockup of a lunar rover, built by Boeing in Kent
- A mockup of the Apollo 17 lunar module ascent stage
- A Viking Mars lander
The museum has a lot of artifacts from astronaut Pete Conrad, the Apollo 12 commander. Among those on display are a cuff checklist Conrad used to keep track of tasks on the Moon, a mix tape he played on Skylab that includes personal messages from the likes of Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, and Tom T. Hall, and a rock Conrad brought back from the Moon.
David Concannon is the deep sea explorer hired by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to lead the search for and discovery of the F-1 engines. (See our story from November 2015 for more.) Concannon, who has also recovered artifacts from the Titanic, was still in awe at the press preview last week.
“These engines tell an magnificent story of a time in America when everybody came together, pulled together to do something magnificent,” Concannon said. “To me, that’s the story that these beat-up, burned-up artifacts tell.”
They tell it remarkably well. Don’t miss it!
A few highlights of the Apollo exhibit (click for larger versions):
- Our article from last month previewing the Apollo exhibit
- Podcast of our interview with Geoff Nunn
- Story about the Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project