The Saint Louis Science Center will host Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission April 14-Sept. 3. The exhibition, which coincidentally corresponds with the 49th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20, features the Apollo 11 command module Columbia and is the first time in 46 years it has left the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Destination Moon offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people in the St. Louis area, according to Kristina Hampton, the Science Center’s collections manager.
“This exhibition is bringing the command module Columbia and other artifacts that were actually flown on the mission,” says Hampton, who is also the project manager for Destination Moon. “This may be the only time it will leave D.C. in the near future. It’s a wonderful opportunity to experience the wonder and awe associated with the space program and the accomplishments that went into getting a man to the moon and bringing him back safely.”
Destination Moon also helps participants gain an understanding of the significance of the Apollo 11 mission.
“It was a massive accomplishment not just for Americans but for all of mankind,” Hampton says. “We ventured out into great unknown outside our atmosphere. The amount of work and people it took to make this happen is quite staggering when you think about it. Hundreds of thousands of people worked on this and were instrumental in getting a man into space. The teamwork, commitment to a cause and the advances in technology that were part of this were not a small thing. They launched a man on a rocket that was powerful enough to send 14 elephants into space.”
The Apollo 11 command module Columbia is a highlight of the exhibit, Hampton says.
“It’s quite amazing to think about the fact that this is the vehicle that took these astronauts into space and brought them back safely,” she says. “This is where they lived for eight days, and it’s very small. It’s about 10 feet tall and 15 feet in diameter. There’s not a lot of room in there to be living with two other men in this tight little container in space.”
The Smithsonian portion of Destination Moon is just one third of the full exhibit, which takes about an hour to go through.
“We’re building two exhibit experiences to sandwich the Smithsonian portion, more than doubling the size of the exhibit,” Hampton says. “We’re recreating a street scene from St. Louis in the 1960s that has storefronts [including a] toy store and convenience store. We’re filling those with artifacts from the Science Center’s collection.”
The pre-Smithsonian part of the exhibit also includes a 1960s mid-century modern house. “It’s like you’ve stepped into a launch party for Apollo 11 in July 1969,” Hampton explains. “It’s intended to take you back in time and set the stage for what you’re going to see. This is our chance to tell the story of why St. Louis was important in the space program. A lot of the work was done here in St. Louis at McDonnell Aircraft, so we emphasize the role St. Louis played [in the Space Race].”
Both the Smithsonian and the pre-Smithsonian portion are artifact-focused exhibits, but the third segment of Destination Moon is highly interactive.
“We’ve built a full-size command module you can get in and experience what it was like,” Hampton says. “We’ve also built a mission control as well as a lunar module, which was the craft that took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin down to the surface of the moon while the command module stayed in orbit around the moon. You can talk to each other between all three of these interactive [stations]. We also have a rocket launcher activity as well as interactive video games to help you understand what it was like to build rockets and land on the surface.”
Aside from the command module Columbia, other one-of-a-kind artifacts from the historic mission include: A star chart showing the positions of the sun, moon and stars at the time of the mission; a rucksack filled with emergency landing equipment; and Aldrin’s extravehicular visor and gloves, both worn while on the moon.
Don’t miss your chance to see this special exhibition at the Science Center — one of just four institutions nationwide to host Destination Moon. For more information and tickets, visit slsc.org. M