The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is laying the groundwork for a 50th-anniversary traveling exhibit featuring Apollo 11 space hardware, including the moon mission’s command module – and Seattle’s Museum of Flight could be a prime stop.
The 2019 road show is the Smithsonian’s preferred solution to an awkward problem: what to do with artifacts from the historic 1969 moon landing while a section of the museum in Washington, D.C., is being renovated.
The renovation project is being done in phases over the course of several years, and some sections of the museum will remain open throughout. But ironically, the area where the museum intends to put its state-of-the-art “Destination Moon” exhibit will be closed in 2019, during the 50th anniversary of the first mission to put humans on the moon.
Some “Destination Moon” artifacts will go on temporary display in alternate Smithsonian exhibit spaces. Other pieces of hardware – including the command module, known as Columbia – are destined to hit the road.
“We’re in the process of working out a traveling exhibition,” space historian Roger Launius, the museum’s associate director of collections and curatorial affairs, told GeekWire today.
The event would be a throwback to 1970, when the command module and other Apollo 11 artifacts went on a two-year-long, 50-state tour. “We can’t go around the world, but we can go around the country,” Launius said.
Launius said it’s too early to announce which cities would be on the schedule for the 2019 traveling exhibit, but Seattle would be a natural candidate. Doug King, the Museum of Flight’s president and CEO, declined to comment on the matter.
The National Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Flight already are sharing a treasure trove of Apollo-Saturn F-1 rocket engine parts that were recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in 2013, thanks to an expedition backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Apollo 11 engine artifacts would be part of the road show, Launius said.
Bezos mentioned the possibility of having the Apollo 11 road show come to Seattle during an impromptu chat at the Museum of Flight’s Pathfinder Awards banquet on Saturday night. Later, on stage, he recounted the thrill of the 2013 expedition to retrieve the rocket engine parts:
Bezos recalled that at the start of the project, it took him only about 15 minutes’ worth of searching the Web to identify the general area where the Saturn V rockets used for the Apollo missions dropped their first stages into the Atlantic.
“That was the only part of this that would be easy,” Bezos joked. “It got very hard from there.”
After the parts were finally located, Bezos and his family accompanied a salvage team to recover the artifacts.
“My mom was the only woman on a ship with 60 people for three weeks,” Bezos said. “There were a bunch of Norwegian sailors and people from all over the world. On the very first day, I got a little bit of a sense of what I was in for. The captain of the vessel came to me, and he said, ‘Look, we’ve never had a woman on the boat before, so I went ahead and took the liberty of removing all the pornography from the common area.’
“I said, ‘OK, thank you.’ Probably a fine idea,” Bezos said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “But it worked. Everything was fantastic. The crew and the people we hired were very professional.”
Now Bezos has to decide what to do with another prized space artifact: a test spaceship that his Blue Origin venture sent on five suborbital trips to outer space.
Bezos has promised to send the New Shepard rocket ship to a museum, and that’s piqued interest from a good number of institutions – including the Museum of Flight. But Bezos told GeekWire it’s too early to make the decision.
First, the spacecraft will be brought back to Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, south of Seattle. Bezos said the hardware would be disassembled and analyzed to find out what worked well, and what could work better. “We’re going to learn as much as we can,” he told GeekWire.
Bezos plans to reveal his decision on New Shepard’s next destination after the analysis is complete. And who knows? Perhaps Blue Origin, like the Smithsonian, will take its space history show on the road.