Monday, February 9, 2015

Neil Armstrong's wife finds priceless bag of missing space equipment

The ‘McDivitt purse’ and its contents had been lost for four decades.

Credit: Getty

The bag full of power cables and utility clamps may not have looked very interesting when Carol Armstrong found them stuffed in a closet in her Ohio home.

Yet the items, which had lain hidden for more than four decades, were actually priceless mementos from the most famous space mission of all, during which her husband became the first person to walk on the Moon.

The so-called “McDivitt purse” contained objects carried in the Eagle lunar module during the historic Apollo 11 mission, and included the camera that filmed Neil Armstrong’s descent on to the Moon’s surface on 20 July 1969.

Neil Armstrong’s McDivitt purse, stowed in the lunar module during Apollo 11. 

The white cloth bag was returned to Earth, despite being scheduled to remain on the moon, and was stashed in Armstrong’s closet until his death in 2012.

The objects, which were supposed to be left on the Moon so as to not add extra weight to their capsule on its launch off the lunar surface, will go on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum alongside other artefacts from the mission. Experts said they were “of priceless historical value”.

Mounted in the right-hand window of the lunar module Eagle, this Data Acquisition Camera filmed the first landing on the moon. 

Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin later repositioned it to film their work on the lunar surface.

Allan Needell, curator in the space history department at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, said: “Seeing such things with one’s own eyes helps us to appreciate that these accomplishments are not just books or movies but involve real people and real things, and that they involved an extraordinary amount of detailed engineering and planning”.

Ms Armstrong found the bag after her husband’s death in 2012 and emailed the curators saying it contained “assorted small items that looked like they may have come from a spacecraft”.

Mr Needell said: “For a curator of a collection of space artefacts, it is hard to imagine anything more exciting.”

A smiling Neil Armstrong in the Apollo 11's Lunar Module cabin after the EVA.

Credit: NASA

Among the 18 objects were cables, netting, mirrors and the waist tether Armstrong used.

There was also the 16mm camera which filmed the landing on the moon and the planting of the US flag, alongside a bracket for the camera, a 10mm lens and a lens shade.

They were put in the “purse”, named after Apollo 9 commander Jim McDivitt, who first suggested taking a spare bag to temporarily carry items, as there was no time to return them to storage.

A picture still survives of the bag in Buzz Aldrin’s hands in 1969.

Mr Needell said: “As far as we know, Neil has never discussed the existence of these items and no one else has seen them in the 45 years since he returned from the moon.”

Armstrong had not mentioned the items to his biographer James Hansen.

Two artifacts from the bag, the 16mm Data Acquisition Camera that was mounted in the window of the lunar module Eagle to capture the historic landing and a waist tether that Armstrong used to support his feet while briefly resting on the moon, are currently on display at the museum in a recently opened exhibition.

For more detailed information about the purse and its contents, head over to NASA.

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