Astronaut Artifacts Explored

Astronaut Artifacts Explored  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Bonhams.

The Sea of Tranquility stretched as far as the eye could see.  It was hundreds of miles wide.  With seemingly few craters, it was smooth, cold and silent. 

In twelve minutes two of the Apollo 11 astronauts would be touching down on a small corner of the Sea of Tranquility in the very first moon landing. 

The world waited for this moment on July 20, 1969. The astronauts would be the first men to leave human footprints on another celestial body.

The world waited for this moment on July 20, 1969. The astronauts would be the first men to leave human footprints on another celestial body.

The orbit and descent seemed calm.    

The lunar module Eagle was 33,500 feet from the moon when the master alarm sounded.  It went off with all the intensity of a fire alarm in a crowded elevator.

What’s going on?  Were the men in danger?  Should they land?  Should they abort?  Would the Eagle explode?  Minutes dragged on as the men waited for Mission Control to tell them what to do. 

There was less than 30 seconds of fuel left, enough for one try.  The computers had overloaded causing alarms to go off.  They had too much to do and like bewildered children cried out.

Keep going was the response that finally came from Mission Control.  They would work around the problem.

Neal Armstrong struggled to see the moon’s surface as the module descended because of blowing dust from Eagle’s descent rocket.  He flicked a switch and ended up steering the spacecraft to a safe landing spot on the Sea of Tranquility himself. 

Armstrong shut the engine off.  The dust cleared and everything went eerily silent.  The airless terrain he was looking out at made everything on the moon seem so close, so clear. 

It was an unearthly experience in the truest sense of the word.

“Houston, Tranquility Base here.  The Eagle has landed,” Armstrong said.

“Roger, Tranquility.  We copy you on the ground.  You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue.  We’re breathing again.  Thanks a lot,” the voice from Mission Control said.

The first lunar landing was a reality, a technological dream come true. 

Seven hours after landing Armstrong stepped onto the ancient dust of the moon’s surface for the first time.

“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” he said.   

He and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin spent two hours and 31 minutes that day collecting rocks, soil and setting up science experiments.  Michael Collins stayed in the command module Columbia, orbiting the moon.

Three men had successfully journeyed to the moon.  They would also return home safely. 

The Apollo 11 astronauts wanted the mission patch they wore on their space suits to be symbolic.  They picked the bald eagle not only to honor their lunar module Eagle, but also because the eagle was a symbol of the United States. 

The eagle on their patches carried an olive branch as a symbol of peace.  The branch, they said, denoted the peaceful nature of their Apollo 11 mission.

On July 16, Bonhams, New York, featured a selection of Apollo 11 flown-material in its Space sale.  One of the beta cloth eagle emblems carried on Apollo 11 and signed by all three crewmen sold for $61,000.  It came from Michael Collin’s collection.

Apollo 11 Flown Materials

Home Again Photograph; crewmen in quarantine facility after landing talking to Pres. Nixon; black-and-white; signed; 10 inches by 8 inches;  $976.

Flight Plan Sheet; 1 sheet; extensive annotations by Armstrong and Aldrin; 10 ½ inches by 8 inches;  $27,450.  

Eagle’s LM G & N Navigation updates; helped align navigational equipment; 1 sheet; 5 ½ inches by 8 inches;  $33,550.  

Lunar Module Landing Sequence and Description; 3 sheets; inscribed in ink by Aldrin; 8 inches by 5 ½ inches;  $152,000. 

Lunar Surface Star Chart; used by Armstrong and Aldrin while on the moon to determine their position; 9 inches diameter,  $218,000.

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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