Who would have thought that there would be more to Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 story? After his death three years ago this August, his wife Carol found a white cloth bag in his closet containing items that she believed were from a spacecraft. Shortly after, the family contacted the National Air and Space Museum to examine the artifacts.
Allan Needell, a curator in the Space History Department, particularly the Apollo collection, was called to have a closer look at the items to decide whether any of the artifacts had flown in the lunar module, Eagle, during the celebrated Apollo 11 mission. Under the scrutiny of a team of experts, it was confirmed that, indeed, the items were artifacts from the Apollo 11 mission.
The white cloth bag, known as a McDivitt Purse among astronauts, is a temporary stowage bag (TSB) that was used to store loose items. It is named after the Apollo 9 Commander, James McDivitt, who is credited with suggesting the idea. Alan LaVern, aka Al Bean, had described the bag during a mission review in 1991. He stated, “The purse was a white cloth bag that was up there under the computer DSKY that we just threw loose items in. In fact, I’ve still got (one) at home. It had a snap (closure) and you opened it up and threw stuff in and closed it. That’s why we called it a purse. It was also shaped like a purse. It was made out of beta cloth.”
The items found in Armstrong’s McDivitt were supposed to be discarded. Mission transcripts record Armstrong’s conversation to Michael Collins: “You know, that — that one’s just a bunch of trash that we want to take back — LM parts, odds and ends, and it won’t stay closed by itself. We’ll have to figure something out for it.”
The items are now preserved and considered important artifacts in the National Air and Space Museum. Two of the items that are “especially timely,” are on display in a temporary exhibition titled “Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity,” which is being held at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The first item is the 16 mm Data Acquisition Camera, which was once situated in the Eagle’s window; it was used to record the famous “one small step” taken by Armstrong – humanity’s first footprint beyond Earth. The second item is one of the two waist tethers that Armstrong jerry-rigged to support his feet for the duration of the single rest period on the Moon.
In his airspace blog, Needell stated, “In the future, we hope to complete documenting and cataloging the entire collection of items and, as appropriate, to place them on public display.”