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February 23, 2017

The Apollo 11 capsule is about to go on another mission

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin’s voyage to the moon and back in 1969, the Apollo 11 command module that carried the trio of astronauts to and from the lunar surface will go on tour starting in October, officials have announced.

The command module known as Columbia will be on display at Space Center Houston starting in October as part of the “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission” exhibition, NPR reported on Wednesday. It will mark the first time that the spacecraft will have left the National Air and Space Museum since that Smithsonian facility opened to the public in 1976.

Columbia will be featured at Space Center Houston from Oct. 14, 2017 through March 18, 2018, then will be sent to the St. Louis Science Center, where it will remain from April 14 until Sept. 3, 2018. It will then be at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh from Sept. 29, 2018–Feb. 18, 2019 before finishing at Seattle’s Museum of Flight starting on March 16, 2019.

“This first stop of the national tour is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for people to see both command modules – the Apollo 11 and the Apollo 17 – as well as an array of original Apollo-era artifacts,” officials at the Texas-based museum said in a statement. “Space Center Houston is the home of the Apollo 17 command module, the last mission to land men on the moon.”

Tour to bring ‘important’ space-travel artifact to the people

Along with the Columbia module, the traveling exhibit will include the gloves and helmet worn by Aldrin during his walk on the lunar surface, a container that the crew used to collect some of the first ever rock samples from an extraterrestrial body, and the watch that Collins used to keep track of the time during his time spent in orbit around the moon, NPR said.

However, the Apollo 11 command module – which last went on tour around the US in 1970 and 1971, before being placed in the Smithsonian – will undoubtedly be the main attractions to those coming to see the exhibit in each of its four host cities over the next two-plus years.

In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, exhibit curator Michael Nuefeld called Apollo 11 “one of the most important human space flights in the history of the whole space age...  It paved the way for exploring the moon. Its mission was mainly just to show that we could do it – that we have the technology to explore the moon.” He also told NPR that the Columbia module was “one of the Smithsonian's most important artifacts.”

The traveling exhibit, which will also feature an interactive 3D tour created using high-resolution scans of Columbia, will serve as a preview of a permanent “Destination Moon” exhibit that is set to open at Washington’s National Air and Space Museum in 2020, Space Center Houston said. It will “tell the story of human exploration of the moon” from the Apollo program through modern-day missions designed to study the lunar surface, the museum added.

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Image credit: Dane Penland/National Air and Space Museum/Smithsonian Institution