To the Moon & Back
The extravehicular visor assembly worn by astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface during the historic Apollo 11 mission in July, 1969.
Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
"Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars. Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.”
~ Frank Sinatra
Full confession: I am pounding out this story in the pre-dawn hours while jammin’ to Ol’ Blue Eyes’ iconic version of “Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)” on Spotify. Over and over. As loud as my little purple laptop will allow. Fortunately for my apartment neighbors, I’m rockin’ my matching purple earbuds, too.
But I digress.
Did you know Spotify sports a Moon Tunes playlist of songs compiled by NASA’s Third Rock Radio in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing?
FUN FACT: Per Spotify, the top charting album (as in vinyl) during the Apollo 11 Moon landing in July 1969 was the original Broadway cast recording of “Hair,” the musical story of a group of hippies who celebrate peace and love in the shadow of the Vietnam War.
I remember that song. I didn’t really like it. I didn’t understand it or the Vietnam War. But I knew the words by heart, thanks to my groovy transistor radio, DJ Jim Scott and WSAI-AM. It was the Summer of ’69. The last, best summer ever. I was 12, growing up on Buckeye Crescent in Madeira. On the day of the Moon landing – July 20 – my childhood chum, Kim, and I were excited about a couple of things, actually. Our pre-teen attention, our awe, was divided that rainy day between watching the Moon landing and keeping an eye on an orphaned baby rabbit we had discovered in and rescued from her backyard. We named it Honeybun.
My point – and I do have one – is that I remember exactly what I was doing the day Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. Maybe you do, too. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you weren’t even a gleam in your parents’ eyes at that point in time. Maybe your parents hadn’t even met.
The good news is – whether the Apollo Moon landing is something you have only read about in a science book or you were spinning your “Hair” album on your parent’s hi-fi stereo while watching Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind – now is your chance to see not only Apollo 11-flown artifacts, but the real-deal Apollo 11 command module, Columbia, at Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC).
Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission, an awesome exhibition exploring the birth and development of the American space program and space race, opened in late September in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first mission to land a man (two, if you want to get technical) and safely return him/them home. Organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and the National Air and Space Museum, in Washington, D.C., Destination Moon is making its fifth and final stop at CMC as it winds up its national tour. Tickets are available at cincymuseum.org/destination-moon.
“This is an incredible opportunity for our region to see this iconic piece of history as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of such a historic moment,” says Elizabeth Pierce, CMC president and CEO. “We are honored to have this national treasure in Cincinnati as inspiration to our region for the next giant leap.”
In addition to the Columbia, other key artifacts displayed throughout Destination Moon include Buzz Aldrin’s extravehicular visor and gloves, and the first of the two survival kits – or rucksacks – flown on Apollo 11.
“Most of the population today did not experience [the Moon landing] personally,” notes Michael Neufield, Senior Curator, Space History, at the National Air and Space Museum. “It’s important that we reach current and future generations so they understand why we did it, what the space program was about, and what we should be doing in space.”
As one might imagine, moving the Apollo 11 command module Columbia across the country, from host venue to host venue, takes more than a little bit of planning.
“It’s a very big and heavy object; it’s very precious and a little bit fragile,” Neufield explains. “The fragility of the Columbia command module is mostly the heat shield, the exterior that burned by hitting the atmosphere at nearly 25,000 miles an hour. It can kind of flake off and erode, and we don’t want that.” A special extremely large box and a customized transport ring were developed specifically for hauling the Columbia across the country, he adds.
FUN FACT: The Columbia command module, considered the “crown jewel” of the exhibition, is moved from venue to venue with absolutely no publicity.
“For security, we’ve never shown a picture of the truck or the box. It is moves anonymously from location to location,” Neufield says. “I’ve never even seen a picture of the truck or the box.”
“It’s been an exhibition of a lifetime to work on. And it’s been such a thrill to bring the command module Columbia to so many individuals across the country,” says Kathrin Halpern, Project Director, SITES, whose father was a NASA engineer during the Apollo era. “It’s been incredible to watch families and individuals gather around the objects in this exhibition as they recount their personal stories (of the Moon landing). I think that’s an incredible treasure trove, as well. Over 400,000 individuals put their blood, sweat and tears into what they were doing, whether they were engineers and doctors or barge captains and seamstresses. There were so many people who contributed to make the Apollo 11 moon landing a reality.”
FUN FACT: The seamstresses responsible for the fine detail work on the Apollo 11 space suits had to sew to 1/64th of an inch without pins to make sure they didn’t puncture the suits’ outer layers.
“The idea of that kind of discipline and mastery of one’s profession is true of everyone who worked on the project,” Halpern says. “They were all called to work at the height of their ability to figure out things no one had ever figured out before; to dream, to come up with something that would work. They were called to go beyond the bounds of what was ever thought possible. It’s an incredibly inspiring story.”
Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal is located at 1301 Western Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45203. For more information, visit www.cincymuseum.org.