This small step for Heinz History Center is one giant leap for Pittsburgh’s understanding of the Apollo 11 mission.
Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission, presented in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, opens at the History Center on Sept. 29 and runs through Feb. 18, 2019. The traveling exhibit commemorates the upcoming 50th anniversary of the historic moon landing.
It’s a giant and dramatic exhibition, which walks through every step of the mission, from President John F. Kennedy’s first call to land a man on the moon to the successful completion of the international achievement in July 1969.
For those who were alive to see it on TV, the exhibit offers a chance to reflect and see the details in real life. For those who only learned about Apollo 11 in history books, it’s the closest way to experience the excitement, awe, and unknown as if first-hand.
Here’s are 11 things you can’t miss:
The Columbia command module
The star of the show is Columbia, the Apollo 11 command module.
Columbia, which carried the crew, equipment, and precious lunar samples through a fiery reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, is the only part of the Apollo 11 spacecraft to return intact to Earth.
It measures in at more than 10 feet tall, 12 feet in diameter, and 11,700 pounds.
This national tour of Destination Moon is the first time Columbia has left the Smithsonian since 1971, presenting a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see it in Pittsburgh.
View of the interior of Apollo 11 Command Module "Columbia."Photo by Eric Long / Courtesy of the Smithsonian
Some 400,000 people worked through the missions that led to Apollo 11, including many in Pittsburgh, said Dr. Michael J. Neufeld, senior curation at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.
For example, Columbia itself was built by the Pittsburgh-based North American Rockwell. The innovation of other local companies, such as Westinghouse, Alcoa, Wabtec’s Union Switch & Signal, American Bridge Company, MSA, and Allegheny Ludlum also played a role in putting the first man on the moon.
“All those Pittsburgh connections that make us proud,” Heinz History Center President and CEO Andy Masich said.
The exhibit also showcases Pittsburgh’s ongoing contributions to scientific exploration, with a feature on the Strip District-based company Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander.
“We hope to be leading America back to the moon right here in Pittsburgh,” Astrobotic CEO John Thornton said.
Astrobotic CEO John Thornton.Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline
Everything you missed in history class
Catch up on everything you missed — or forgot — from history class.
The exhibit offers a detailed timeline of the process, highlighting key moments in history. Hear President Kennedy’s proposal in 1961 that “before this decade is out,” the U.S. would send “a man to the moon and return him safely to the Earth.” Learn about the tragedy of the Apollo 1 ground test. Gain an understanding of the science that went into the missions during the space race.
Portrait of the prime crew of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission. From left to right they are: Commander Neil A. Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin E. Aldrin Jr.Courtesy of NASA/Johnson Space Center
Buzz Aldrin’s very important pen
While wearing a bulky spacesuit backpack inside the cabin, one of the astronauts accidentally broke the tab off a key circuit breaker, which was designed to arm the main rocket engine for take off from the moon.
NASA engineers worked to find a solution, but astronaut Buzz Aldrin found a solution of his own. He grabbed this felt pen to flip the broken switch.
“Buzz said, ‘I’m going to take the end of a pen and push the switch in,'” Neufeld said.
Not just for writing.Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline
The mission’s Omega Speedmaster watch
See astronaut Michael Collins’ iconic chronograph, which he attached with Velcro to the outside of his spacesuit during launch and reentry. NASA chose the Omega Speedmaster Chronograph for the space program after a series of rigorous tests to check its precision and reliability.
Collins' chronograph.Courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum
Buzz Aldrin’s helmet and gloves
During the mission, temperatures could range from 200 degrees below zero to 200 degrees above zero, Masich said. That meant finding the right clothing was key.
Aldrin wore a helmet with a thermal control coating and sunshields, along with gloves outfitted with silicone rubber fingertips to provide sensitivity for touching — both are on display.
Don’t miss looking through a magnifying glass to see the printed checklist sewn onto Aldrin’s left glove. It gave Aldrin easy access to procedures during his walk on the moon.
A cheat sheet of sorts.Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline
An F-1 Engine Injector Plate
For decades, this plate was at the floor of the Atlantic Ocean until it was recovered in 2013.
The piece was from one of the first-stage engines of Apollo 11’s Saturn V rocket. It did the very important job of spraying liquid oxygen and kerosene fuel into the combustion chamber. Notice how the baffles, which protrude upward, are bent by the force of crashing into the ocean.
Dr. Michael J. Neufeld, senior curation at the Smithsonian Institution, explains the F-1 Engine Injector Plate.Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline
The rock box
What looks like a hybrid between a tool box and a briefcase, the mission’s “lunar sample return container,” (a.k.a. rock box) was used to bring back the first samples of the moon to Earth.
The box was first opened in a special laboratory to minimize the chance that the material from Earth would contaminate the samples.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon.Courtesy of NASA
A slew of events
Kicking off with a Blastoff Opening Day on Saturday, there are plenty of events every month to experience the exhibit in new ways — here’s a full listing, from family activities to 21+ nights.
Destination Moon.Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline
Don’t miss the chance to crawl around inside a replica of the cockpit and snap some photos.
It me.Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline
It’s hard not to feel some swelling emotions as you travel through this exhibit.
“I get goosebumps every time I hear that and a feeling of pride,” Masich said, referring to the “one small step” audio clip. “This moon landing is not just a great moment In American history. It’s a milestone in human history.”