For the first time in nearly half a century, the prized Apollo 11 command module Columbia will leave the National Air and Space Museum and go on a four-city tour. For the next two years, it will be the star of the exhibition called “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission.”
As the only piece of the spaceship that completed the first mission to bring humankind to the moon and return him safely to Earth, Columbia has a rich story to tell eager audiences in Houston on Oct. 14 and St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Seattle afterward.
Historic Lunar Mission
“It did things that up until then were hardly imaginable, and it stoked tremendous excitement about the possibilities of technology in the future,” said Smithsonian secretary David J. Skorton of Apollo 11, which landed astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the “moonshot” mission.
Columbia, now charred and shaken by time and the great forces of atmospheric re-entry, had been displayed at the National Air and Space Museum from its opening in 1976 until last December, when it was transferred to the conservation laboratory at the museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Scientists will keep studying and conserving the historic vessel for nine months before its tour kick-starts at the Space Center Houston.
Columbia In Focus
Here are 11 facts and pieces of information on the Columbia and the space research-defining mission it embarked on.
1. Columbia served as the living quarters of the three astronauts during their lunar landing mission in July 1969. The mission launched from Cape Kennedy on top of a Saturn V rocket.
2. This command module, with no. 107, was manufactured by North American Rockwell and among the three parts of the complete spacecraft. The two others were the service module (containing the main spacecraft propulsion system and consumables) and the lunar module, the two-person craft nicknamed “Eagle” and used by Armstrong and Aldrin for descending to the lunar surface.
3. It was primarily made up of aluminum alloy, stainless steel, and titanium.
4. Here’s Columbia by the numbers: it measures 10 feet and 7 inches in height, weighs 13,000 pounds, and has a maximum diameter of 12 feet 10 inches.
5. Columbia housed Collins while Armstrong and Aldrin descended to the moon in Eagle. Collins was the communications link and photographer of the moon’s surface for 28 hours.
6. Columbia afterward reclaimed the two astronauts from the ascent stage of the lunar module.
7. Its interior space is nearly as roomy as a large automobile.
8. Apollo 11 astronauts carried tools to make minor repairs to their spacecraft, a kit that was aboard the command module during the lunar mission.
9. The hatch from the Apollo 11 command module could be opened outward in five seconds through pumping the handle for activating a pressurized nitrogen cylinder. Prior to the tragic fire in January 1967 that killed three astronauts, there were two hatches on the Apollo command module requiring 90 seconds to open.
11. Columbia will travel 8,000 miles in its four-museum tour, with a concluding trip to mark the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing to be held at the Museum of Flight in Seattle from March 16 to Sept. 2 in 2019.