It’s been 46 years since Neil Armstrong took “one giant leap for mankind” when he became the first person to set foot on the moon. Now, visitors of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum have the opportunity to get an up-close look at some of the astronaut’s outer space mementos that were meant to be left on the moon.
Shortly after Armstrong’s death in August 2012, his family reached out to the Smithsonian about artifacts from his career found at his Ohio home office. Carol, Armstrong’s widow, discovered a white cloth bag in her husband’s closet filled with items that she believed came from a spacecraft. After close analysis, a team from the museum determined that the white bag contained items that were flown in the Lunar Module Eagle during the Apollo 11 mission, according to Allan Needell, curator in the Smithsonian’s Space History Department, in a blog post.
“Needless to say, for a curator of a collection of space artifacts, it is hard to imagine anything more exciting,” Needell wrote.
Needell sought out a team of experts who worked on the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal (ALSJ) website, which details information about the Apollo program, to verify that the objects in the bag were in fact from Armstrong’s historic space mission.
The bag itself is known as a McDivitt Purse, which is a special container that was stowed away in the Lunar Module during the launch. It opens and closes like a clutch purse. The ALSJ researchers catalogued the items in the bag, determining “with almost complete certainty that all of the items were indeed from the Eagle.”
The items were meant to be left behind after the mission. According to mission transcripts looked at by the ALSJ, Armstrong can be heard telling Michael Collins “you know, that – that one’s just a bunch of trash that we want to take back – LM parts, odds and ends … we’ll have to figure something out for it.”
Two of the items are currently on display in the temporary “Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity” exhibit. One of the objects is a 16mm Data Acquisition Camera that recorded the landing and Armstrong’s “one small step.” The other item is one of two waist tethers, which Armstrong jerry-rigged to support his feet during the single rest period on the moon.
According to Needell, the Smithsonian will continue to catalogue all of the items and plans to eventually put them on public display.