Apollo 11 in the Smithsonian

There are very few objects on earth that have traveled as far away as the moon, and come back to earth. Some of the boxes or cases that were used to store moon rocks count on that list. There were only twelve people that ever stood on the moon, and another six that orbited while the 12 were on the ground. Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 circled the moon, which makes another six people.

The Apollo 11 Capsule was the mother ship that brought back Armstrong, Aldin and Collins from the first moon landing in July 1969, 40 years ago now. This is arguably the most famous space ship in history, forever. Of all the gear and equipment that left on the Saturn V rocket during that launch, it’s the only thing that came back.

It is in prominent display, encapsulated in thick Plexiglas, in the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.  I recently visited there and I stood in front of it in awe. I still remember sitting in front of my TV in 1969, a 13 year old boy, watching the events unfold, hearing commentators day and night talking about the space capsule, its “computers” and its high tech gear.

Looking into the capsule, the interior is definitely smaller than the front seat of  a compact car, with three seats in the front next to each other. The instruments look worn and like something out a Jules Verne book. There were no discernible computers then. Computers were still made of transistors and vacuum tubes. Integrated circuits didn’t exist yet. There are a lot of switches, dials and levers, all mechanical. The astronauts spent almost two weeks confined into this space, and of course the attached lander, during their journey to and from the moon. It was a lifeboat on an incredibly dangerous and long journey.

And here I was, standing in front of  it,  and had it not been  for the Plexiglas, I could have touched the dials. I was in awe.

Later I walked by and there was a group of teenage girls, standing in front of the capsule, leaning against it with their backs, blocking other visitors. They were talking on their cell phones to somebody about something, blatantly unaware of what they were leaning against. Even if they knew, they would  not appreciate it like I did right there, this strange artifact from decades before their births, that was part of a journey to the moon long ago.

Leave a Reply