AirMail | April 2017 Edition

Apollo 11: Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

Apollo on the Move

For 40 years, the seared face of the Command Module Columbia’s heat shield was one of the iconic sights to greet visitors to the Museum in Washington, DC. Now Columbia, and several related artifacts, will travel to museums in St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Houston, and Seattle from October 2017 through the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing in 2019. In preparation for this cross-country journey, the Columbia will undergo extensive conservation, and may reveal new secrets in the process.

“The last time we accessed the interior was for 3D scanning in March 2016, and we found “graffiti” put there by the astronauts,” said Lisa Young, a Museum conservator. “There may be more stories like that hidden in there.”

The exhibition will also include Buzz Aldrin’s helmet and gloves, an Apollo 11 F-1 injector plate recovered from the ocean by Jeff Bezos’ team, and several other artifacts from the mission. A new 3-D interactive will allow visitors to explore the exterior and interior of the Command Module virtually. This tour will be an opportunity for people across the country to be a part of the celebrations around the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing. Here at the Museum in Washington, DC, we will display Neil Armstrong’s newly-conserved spacesuit and develop additional programming to mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo.

Learn more about how you can visit the traveling exhibition and go behind the scenes of the Museum’s conservation work.


Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission is made possible by the support of Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, Joe Clark, Bruce R. McCaw Family Foundation, the Charles and Lisa Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences, John and Susann Norton, and Gregory D. and Jennifer Walston Johnson. Transportation services for Destination Moon are provided by FedEx.

Board member Bruce R. McCaw pictured in front of the Command Module Columbia

“To be standing next to such an iconic artifact is an incredibly moving experience.” – Bruce R. McCaw

How Seattle Space Enthusiasts are Making an Impact

Bruce R. McCaw has been passionate about aviation and space exploration nearly his entire life. As an experienced pilot, McCaw has a deep commitment to sharing aviation and spaceflight history with present and future generations.  He has bridged this commitment through his service as a board member of both the National Air and Space Museum and The Museum of Flight in his hometown of Seattle.

The strong passion McCaw has for aerospace and his ties to the Seattle area made the traveling exhibition, Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission, the perfect opportunity to support two areas close to his heart.

“My association with the museum and aviation worlds, as well as my interests in space have connected a lot of dots in my life that have inspired me,” McCaw said.

McCaw not only made his own investment in the exhibition, but also led the effort to secure additional support from friends and fellow space enthusiasts in Seattle. The traveling exhibit will be on display at The Museum of Flight in Seattle during the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, March 16, 2019 - September 2, 2019. We asked McCaw why this project was meaningful to him.

"I consider the entire Apollo program, and particularly the Moon landings, to be one of mankind’s greatest achievements,” McCaw reflected. He shared a personal connection not only to Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, but also many of the other Apollo astronauts and ground personnel.

“When you look back on the Apollo program, you realize how connected the astronauts, engineers, designers, and contractors were, along with the integral roles that each had on the success of the Command Module Columbia, McCaw said. “I’m in awe of the whole program and how people really came together and in a very unique way, they made it happen.”

It was important to McCaw to ensure that Columbia remain on display until the new Destination Moon gallery at the National Mall building opened. “It would be a crime to have it packed away on the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing,” McCaw said.

Making a significant gift to support Destination Moon and the traveling exhibition, McCaw encouraged fellow Apollo enthusiasts, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, Joe Clark, and Charles and Lisa Simonyi to join him in helping bring Columbia to Seattle.

When asked what he is most looking forward to when the traveling exhibition opens in Seattle, McCaw reflected for a moment. “The 50th anniversary is going to be such a significant global event, it’s hard to really comprehend what it’ll be like, feel like, until we really get there. I’m hoping people will appreciate the extraordinary accomplishment that this represents. We’ll have a sense of wonder, amazement, pride, and curiosity all at the same time. I think it’s going to be a very special moment in time, especially realizing that more than two out of three people today weren’t even born when this happened.”

To learn more about the traveling show and tour dates and locations click here. If you’d like to learn more about supporting Destination Moon, please contact Laura Gleason at (202)-633-2608 or

Detail of Armstrong's Suit

Update: Rebooting the Suit

The Command Module Columbia isn’t the only Apollo artifact to have made headlines recently.  Over the past year and a half, the Museum has been working to prepare Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit for display at the National Mall building in time for the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings. During that time, the Museum completed an x-ray and 3D scan of the spacesuit glove to learn more about the engineering and composition and assess the condition of the interior materials.

Thanks to the widespread publicity of the Reboot the Suit Kickstarter campaign the Museum has acquired new records that have proven essential to documenting the suit’s history. Armstrong’s suit and Columbia will reunite at the Museum in Washington, DC when the permanent exhibition opens in 2020.

Senator John Glenn and General J.R. Dailey

General J.R. "Jack" Dailey (left) and Senator John Herschel Glenn, Jr. 


“America Still Needs Heroes”

In late 2016 the world lost an icon, Senator John Glenn. In a post on the Museum's blog, Air and Space, Museum Director Jack Dailey reflected on the loss of his friend and hero.

“He was the real article, and an ideal role model for a young fighter pilot,” Dailey said.  “America needs heroes, but we don’t always do well by them. We tend to tear them down almost as soon as they appear. But John Glenn was bulletproof.”

Sen. Glenn’s passing was followed in early 2017 by the death of another hero of early spaceflight, Gene Cernan. The “last man on the Moon,” was an emeritus member of the Museum’s Board and a dedicated supporter of the Museum’s mission to educate and inspire the next generation of space explorers.   

“Perhaps the most articulate of the Moon-walking astronauts, he felt that it was his mission to make his audiences feel as if they had been there too,” wrote Museum Curator Mike Neufeld of Cernan’s legacy.

The loss of these two legendary astronauts reinforces the Museum’s critical mission to commemorate our aerospace history with exhibitions like Destination Moon and programming such as the annual John H. Glenn Lecture.  We hope you will join us for the next annual Glenn Lecture, which will honor Sen. Glenn and will take place July 18.

Command module being lifted by crane into the Udvar-Hazy Center.

Columbia Move Made Possible by FedEx

In January, the Command Module Columbia, made its first trip in 46 years in preparation for the upcoming traveling show Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission. A total of 10 people spent approximately six hours to complete the 30 mile trip from the National Mall building to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center and managed a list of logistics that would overwhelm the best of us. The Command Module's next trip will be 46 times that distance to its first host location at Space Center Houston in Houston Texas. The Museum is grateful to FedEx for supporting this effort and ensuring the successful transport of this one-of-a-kind artifact to all four traveling exhibit destinations across the country.

John Norton posing for A&S article

To the Moon and Back: Honoring the Memory of John Norton

In the early days of the space program, John Norton dreamed of becoming an astronaut.  But standing at a height of 6’5”, he was too tall for the job. Still, as a guidance software expert for TRW, Norton played a critical role in the Apollo program’s success. Norton’s deep understanding of flight software coding and scrupulous attention to detail in his review are credited for the program’s storied reliability.

John was a legend among computer programmers for the quality of his work” said Paul Ceruzzi, the National Air and Space Museum’s curator for aerospace electronics and computing.

John’s career at TRW (later Northrop Grumman) would span 55 years, during which time he would play a major role in software development for the space program from Apollo through the shuttle era; meet his wife, Susann, a cost analyst; and become an influential mentor to an 18-year-old Bill Gates.

“He was a god!” Gates said of Norton in the book Gates. “He would take a piece of source code home, come back and just totally analyze the thing. He was a high-IQ act.”

In the mid-1990’s John and Susann moved to Oxon Hill, MD where they would visit the National Air and Space Museum often. “He said it felt like coming home again,” Susann said of Norton’s familiarity with and affection for the Museum’s artifacts.

When Norton died in 2015, Susann sought a meaningful way to honor his contributions to the space program. John and Susann included the Museum in their estate plans, which will create an endowment to support education programs in the Destination Moon exhibition.  Susann also made a generous gift to support construction of the exhibition and recognize her husband.

“This is John,” Susan said she thought when she learned of plans for the new exhibition. “John had the opportunity to work directly with the Apollo astronauts in Houston. It was one of the highlights of his career. I chose to establish an endowment because that is what John would have wanted. It was important to him.”

In addition to making a gift to recognize Norton within the exhibition, Susann is honoring her husband’s memory in another unique way. Through Celestis Memorial spaceflights, Susann has arranged to send Norton’s ashes into Earth's orbit.

“He was never able to be an astronaut since he was too tall,” Susann said. “This will allow him to finally take that journey.”