Tag Archives: Apollo

Apollo 11 command module amazes in St. Louis

We tend to remember where we were at the time of major historical events, like when we found out that Elvis was dead or when a gimpy Kirk Gibson hit that home run against Dennis Eckersley to win the first game of the 1988 World Series. For space geeks and for anyone over age 56 or so, the ultimate such shared experience has to be when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon. Estimates are that up to 600 million people worldwide and more than 130 million in the US alone watched the Moon landing on live television.

Apollo 11 Columbia command module

Your correspondent with the Apollo 11 command module Columbia last month at the St. Louis Science Center. Photo: Greg Scheiderer

Thus, it was a thrill for me to recently stand about a foot away from an amazing piece of space exploration history, the Apollo 11 “Columbia” command module, at the St. Louis Science Center. Columbia hadn’t left the Smithsonian since doing a national tour in the early 1970s, but the historic space capsule is part of a touring exhibit called Destination Moon that will visit four cities before returning to the National Air and Space Museum as part of a new comprehensive Apollo exhibit. The tour started last year in Houston and the St. Louis stop wraps up Sept. 3, 2018. It will be on display in Pittsburgh starting later this month and then—get this!—its final stop on the tour will be the Museum of Flight in Seattle, where it will be on display beginning in March for a stay that will include the 50th anniversary date of the Moon landing. Huzzah!

The Destination Moon exhibit is great, with lots of information about how we got there, who the key players were, and why we did it. But the Columbia capsule was just completely mesmerizing, at least for me. I was a total space nut kid, kept scrapbooks of newspaper clippings of stories about the space flights, and was glued to the TV for launches and landings. Standing next to Columbia took me back to my almost-12 self. I dare say I was giddy in its presence. I spent a couple of hours in the exhibit, mostly just looking at this fabulous artifact.

There were a couple of other cool items in the exhibit. Aldrin’s helmet and gloves used on the Moon were there, as was a sample collection case in which he and Armstrong stowed their Moon rocks. They also have one injector plate from an Apollo engine, of they type around which the Museum of Flight has built its popular Apollo exhibit. Columbia’s escape hatch is on display separately from the capsule. There a collection of gear such as first-aid items and a survival kit in case the capsule splashed down far away from its target upon return to Earth. And, oh yes, there’s a Moon rock, too. Interestingly enough, I saw Moon rocks at both the St. Louis Science Center and Adler Planetarium in Chicago during a recent trip to the Midwest, and visitors showed little interest in either. THAT’S A HUNK OF THE MOON FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! OK, rant over. Maybe that’s not a big thing in the age of virtual reality and interactive exhibits. Alas.

Elsewhere in the St. Louis Science Center they have Mercury and Gemini capsules, too, and another current exhibit is Mission: Mars that is a lot of fun. The center is also home to the James S. McDonnell Planetarium, built in 1963 and named for the co-founder of McDonnell-Douglas, who kicked in a good chunk of change for equipment for the facility.

Membership has its priveleges; I got $1 off admission to Destination Moon thanks to my membership in the Museum of Flight. Parking would have been free had I driven, but I took public transit to the center.

Destination Moon will be at the Museum of Flight from April 13–Sept. 2, 2019. Check below for a trailer video, and for more of our photos from the exhibit.

Destination Moon

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New Apollo exhibit opens at Museum of Flight next month

There’s a lot of excitement these days over at the Museum of Flight, where they’re working hard to complete their new Apollo exhibit by the time it opens for visitors on May 20, 2017. While the exhibit bears the name of the Moon-landing program, Geoff Nunn, adjunct curator for space history at the museum, notes that it will cover lots of ground from the start of the space race after World War II through the post-Apollo 1970s.

Apollo“We’re trying to re-focus on the Apollo story, re-integrate Pete Conrad’s artifacts, and showcase these amazing artifacts that we received from NASA by way of Bezos Expeditions: actual, Apollo-flown, F-1 engines,” Nunn said.

We covered the event in November 2015 when Jeff Bezos formally presented the engines to the museum, restored after an amazing search, discovery, and recovery from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Nunn said the museum recently received a new artifact on loan: an intact F-1 engine that was originally set to launch Apollo 16, but was switched out after a fire. It took some fancy engineering to get an engine 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide and weighing nearly 20,000 pounds into the gallery. It will provide an interesting contrast to the engines Bezos recovered.

“Our F-1 engine survived a million and a half pounds of thrust and burning rocket fuel, it survived a strike by lightning, and then a plummet from the edge of space down to smash into the ocean, and then 40-plus years on the bottom of the ocean,” Nunn noted. “That is an artifact!”

See a bit of the first airplane

The engines are just one of several of what Nunn calls “crown jewels” in the Apollo exhibit, which also includes Deke Slayton’s astronaut pin and a fabulous new addition.

“We are receiving on loan from Neil Armstrong’s family a couple of pieces of the original Wright Flyer that were carried to the Moon by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11,” Nunn said. “They’re just little, tiny bits, but the first airplane made it to the Moon and we’re going to have a couple of those on display, so there’s going to be quite a few one-of-a-kind, amazing artifacts in this exhibit.”

Astronaut humor

Geoff Nunn

Geoff Nunn, adjunct curator for space history at the Museum of Flight, at an event when the Apollo F-1 engines were formally presented to the museum in late 2015. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

The exhibit will also bring back many items from astronaut Pete Conrad that were part of the past Rendezvous in Space exhibit that was displaced at the museum by the construction of its Alaska Airlines Aerospace Education Center. Among the inventory is a cap Conrad wore on the Apollo 12 mission. It’s a standard type of navy cap, but Conrad had a propeller added.

“That cap is really indicative of Pete’s personality,” Nunn laughed.

The cuff checklist Conrad used on the Moon also will be on display. These lists spelled out the various steps for different tasks the astronauts would do on the Moon. For Apollo 12, the ground crew also slipped in some cartoons and Playboy playmate photos. Nunn said it was quite a challenge to tell that story while keeping the exhibit G-rated.

“When it comes to amazing and notable and hilarious things, Apollo 12 is really a gold mine as far as Apollo missions go,” he said.

More cool stuff to come

Many of us of a certain age remember exactly where we were and what was going on when we watched the Moon landings on television in the midst of the tumultuous 1960s.

“One of the things that we’re really trying to capture is just how much the space program interplayed with the context of what was going on at the time,” Nunn said of the exhibit. He noted that the opening of the Apollo exhibit is just the first chapter in the museum’s storytelling about the program. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is doing some remodeling, and has created a traveling exhibit called Destination Moon that will visit four cities. It will be at the Museum of Flight from March 16 through September 2 in 2019.

“On the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing—July 20, 2019—you can see Neil Armstrong’s space suit and the Apollo 11 command module here at the Museum of Flight,” Nunn beamed. “It’s going to be awesome.”


The museum’s annual Space Fest will coincide with the opening of the exhibit May 20 and 21. The schedule for a variety of events is still being finalized.

Podcast of our interview with Geoff Nunn:

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