Preparing the Apollo 11 Columbia for its national tour

Lisa Young and Malcolm Collum


The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of objects related to the history of spaceflight. Spacesuits, personal items, scientific instrumentation, satellites and entire spacecraft make up this inspiring collection. The Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia stands out as the most significant artifact, representing one of mankind’s most remarkable achievements of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth. The last time Columbia traveled throughout the United States was in 1970, where it embarked on a 50-State Tour following the moon landing in 1969. Almost 50 years later, this historic spacecraft that carried astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins to the Moon and back, is headed out on the road for a second nationwide tour. Columbia was built for a single mission and while it was designed to withstand the rigors of launch and re-entry, 50 years later many of its materials are showing signs of deterioration.

For the first time since the Smithsonian acquired the spacecraft in 1972, conservators had the opportunity to examine the materials, take an-depth look at the engineering and technology and to re-examine the history of the object. This analysis served to enhance the curatorial and historical record, guided the conservation treatment and informed the exhibition design. This paper will present a technical study of the Command Module, illustrating its design, engineering and use of materials while presenting its conservation challenges. Astronaut graffiti and a study of the many features of this spacecraft will help humanize the artifact that traveled nearly a million miles in 8 days. Today, shipping an iconic artifact of this scale across the country should be a comparatively simple task but it still proved to be a logistical challenge and required collaboration with a team of experts to design a climate-controlled container, fabricate handling fixtures and provide security and suitable exhibition venues.


2018 | Houston | Volume 25