By Chris Zuver, Staff Writer
For the first time in 46 years, the Apollo 11 command module Columbia will leave the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. It will travel on a two-year tour titled “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission.”
The command module is the only portion of the spacecraft to complete the first mission to land a man on the moon safely and return him to Earth. Its national excursion is in celebration of the coming 50th anniversary of the Space Race.
The tour will begin in Houston’s Space Center in October this year and will conclude at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington, where it will be from March 16 to September 2, 2019.
St. Louis is one of the four locations in the nation in which this event will take place. Part of the tour will be hosted at the Saint Louis Science Center starting on April 14, 2018, and will extend to September 3, 2018.
“St. Louis played a vital role in the Space Race,” said Bert Vescolani, president and CEO of the St. Louis Science Center in the press release for the event. “We are the only museum in the Midwest to host this exhibition, which is so special for the city of St. Louis. We feel very honored because we know that for many people, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see these artifacts.”
The exhibit will contain models, videos, interactives exhibits, and objects flown in Apollo 11. There will also be a 3-D tour consisting of high-resolution scans of the Columbia module performed at the Smithsonian in spring 2016. The purpose of all of these features is to educate visitors about the journey of the Apollo 11 crew—Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin.
Apollo 11 met President John F. Kennedy’s challenge in 1961 of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” The exhibit will cover the story of the 953,054-mile voyage to the moon and how it was accomplished on July 24, 1969. “Destination Moon” will explore the mission and tell the story of the more than 400,000 NASA employees who aided the 20 missions between 1961 and 1969.
The tour, organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services (SITES) will provide the module itself and more than 20 unique artifacts from the historic mission. Among these artifacts will be a star chart which shows the positions of the sun, moon, and stars at the time of the Apollo 11 mission; a survival kit with equipment to help the crew survive in case of an emergency; and Aldrin’s extravehicular visor, which he wore while on the surface of the moon.
This tour will be the first time that the Columbia module will leave the National Air and Space Museum since its public opening in 1976. Originally, the module traveled on a 50-state tour throughout 1970 and 1971 before resting for display at the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building, before the current National Air and Space Museum was built on the National Mall.
This traveling exhibition is a preview of part of a new gallery opening at the National Air and Space Museum scheduled to open in 2020.