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A Journey to The Museum of Flight and Destination Moon

Buzz Aldrin on the moon Courtesy The Museum of Flight

“The Eagle has landed.”

I am not old enough to remember the thrill of the historic 1969 Apollo mission that sent the first human beings to land on the moon. But thanks to a fascinating and inspiring exhibition currently on view at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, I was able to experience the excitement and the wonder, and to better understand the great leaps in science and human ingenuity that characterized the Apollo 11 mission and the global space race of the time.

The centerpiece of “Destination Moon” is the actual Columbia command module that carried astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to lunar orbit and back in July of 1969. Command Module Columbia is the only part of the Apollo 11 spacecraft that returned intact to Earth. It carried the crew, equipment and precious lunar samples through a fiery reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. A fact that I probably learned in school, but had since forgotten, was that Collins remained in Columbia, alone, orbiting the moon, while Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon’s surface in the lunar module Eagle and took the famous first steps. The exhibit references Collins being “the loneliest man” because each time the command module passed behind the moon, he was completely cut off from all radio, aka human, communication. It’s details like this that make this exhibition so compelling as a story of human imagination and courage, not to mention selflessness.

The Apollo 11 command module Courtesy The Museum of Flight

Smaller artifacts also tell the stories of the individuals involved. I especially enjoyed reading about Neil Armstrong’s imperfectly fitting flightsuit which became one of his favorite coveralls to wear while working on his Ohio farm after retiring from NASA. I grew up in a farming community too, but I don’t think anyone was wearing an actual spacesuit to milk the cows.

Seattle is extremely lucky to have this exhibition on view during the mission’s 50th anniversary in July 2019, made even more poignant by the numerous Northwest ties to the historic space program. The touring artifacts in the exhibition are enhanced by objects from the Museum of Flight’s own impressive and expansive collection, including full-scale engineering mockups of Boeing’s lunar rover. Also on view are components from the actual F-1 rocket engines that powered the Saturn V moon rockets off the pad, which were only recently recovered from 2½ miles deep at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, where they sat for over 40 years.

A view of one of the galleries in Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission at The Museum of Flight. On the left is a spacesuit used by astronaut John Young during Apollo 10 training, in the center is a F-1 rocket engine — five were used to power each Saturn V booster. Courtesy The Museum of Flight

The exhibition is now on view through September 2, and the Museum has some extra fun planned this summer. The Lunar Block Party, held over anniversary weekend (July 19-21), offers a three-day celebration with special events, talks, family fun and a concert from all ten of this year’s American Idol finalists, including winner Laine Hardy. The Seattle Summer of Space campaign extends the theme to many other Seattle shops and attractions, offering discounts and special commemorative items (Seattle Chocolate Company’s Moon Rocks Truffle Bars, anyone?).

This is an exhibition not to be missed. It will no doubt spark memories in many, and also inspire our dreamers of the future. One tip: get your timed tickets in advance, and allow enough extra time to see at least some of the permanent collections too. As the largest independent, non-profit air and space museum in the world, it’s always a top Seattle attraction and well worth a visit even without this very special exhibition.

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