What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Keeping priceless pieces of space history safe

In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, nearly five decades after the historic Apollo 11 Command Module brought man to the moon and back, the spacecraft is part of a new adventure in a four-stop traveling exhibition across America. The NewsHour’s Julia Griffin gets a behind-the-scenes look at how the Smithsonian has choreographed a safe trip for the module.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Finally, to our NewsHour Shares, something that caught our eye that may be of interest to you as well.

    The Smithsonian Institution’s collection is 150 million objects’ strong. But when the time comes to take those priceless pieces on the road, how do they keep them safe?

    The NewsHour’s Julia Griffin got a behind-the-scenes look at their latest tour.

  • Man:

    Liftoff. We have a liftoff, 32 minutes past the hour, liftoff of Apollo 11.

  • Julia Griffin:

    July 16, 1969, launch of the historic Apollo 11 mission that captivated a nation.

    Now, nearly five decades later, the command module that bore Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin to the moon and back is on its latest adventure, a two-year, four-stop tour across America.

  • Kathrin Halpern:

    Being in the presence of the real artifact, there is nothing like it.

  • Julia Griffin: 

    Kathrin Halpern is project director overseeing the Destination Moon traveling exhibition.

  • Kathrin Halpern:

    To share the original object with the public, for them to see it in their hometown, or to at least be able to travel an hour or two, as opposed to having to come all the way to Washington, I think it’s going to be incredibly inspiring for all sorts of different people.

  • Julia Griffin:

    National Air and Space Museum Object conservator Lisa Young gave us an up-close look at the Columbia module before it left the nation’s capital.

    Do you think this could do the trip again in this state?

  • Lisa Young:

    Probably not.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Julia Griffin:

    Young’s team prepared not just the spacecraft, but a treasure trove of mission-flown objects, including the crew’s medical kit, Aldrin’s visor and Collin’s watch.

  • Lisa Young:

    These are sensitive fabrics. They are Mylars, Velcro, things that we have today and we use everyday, but, in the 1960s, that wasn’t common. So, we need to look at how they are degrading, stabilize them for the tour.

  • Julia Griffin:

    But taking Apollo 11 artifacts on the road isn’t as simple as moving your family across country.

  • Kathrin Halpern:

    Think of coordinating a ballet. That’s really what’s involved here. Every step, every move is choreographed to make sure that the objects are safe, and that the people working around them are safe as well.

  • Viki Possoff:

    If it’s a complicated object, it has layers of packing.

  • Julia Griffin: 

    Viki Possoff, the tour’s registrar, outlined the steps Smithsonian took to protect the Apollo 11 objects in transit.

  • Viki Possoff: 

    In each box, there are internal fittings that are custom cut and shaped for each object.

  • Julia Griffin: 

    Special linings keep unwanted vapors out. Silica gel packets help maintain optimal humidity levels. And custom cushioned feet shield objects from vibrations during transport.

    But moving the command module itself presents its own mammoth challenge.

  • Lisa Young:

    It’s an awkward heavy object with fragile surfaces. So we can’t wrap it like a traditional museum object.

  • Julia Griffin:

    Its upgraded stand can be lifted and repositioned without ever touching the spacecraft. And a special raincoat shields the module during outdoor transits.

  • Lisa Young:

    Anything at that point could happen. You could have a bird fly by. You could have pollen in the air, all of those things that can get on the surfaces from our environment outside.

  • Julia Griffin:

    FedEx has partnered with Smithsonian to move the exhibition from one place to another. It’s the last part of a big plan to keep the objects safe.

  • Lisa Young:

    Making sure that these objects are around for future generations is really the most important part of our job. So, we want this to be another 50 years worth of time that they get to spend in the public eye.

  • Julia Griffin:

    Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission is now on display at Texas’ Space Center Houston.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Julia Griffin in Chantilly, Virginia.

Listen to this Segment

Latest News