As a part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the Museum is releasing the files used to 3D print the miniature tactile model of the Apollo lunar module on display in our Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.
We all know the first rule of most museum visits: Don’t touch! But tactile models offer an exception. These specially-designed touchable objects are placed throughout an exhibit so that visitors who are blind or have low vision have a way to access the information that is included in the gallery space. Experience shows, however, that although tactile models are primarily intended to make spaces more accessible to people with different needs, they also make the whole space more engaging for all visitors. Simply put, lots of people like to touch stuff.
When the redesigned version of the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall was unveiled after a significant transformation in 2016, the new exhibit design included several touchable models. The Museum’s planning team wanted visitors to be able to connect more intimately with the large aircraft and spacecraft that hang from the ceiling. Tactile models were also included of a few floor-based artifacts, including the Apollo lunar module, which was a new addition to Hall. Moving the Lunar Module (LM, pronounced “lem”) continued the Apollo Program’s prominent place in the central Hall. The other half of that two-part spacecraft system, the Apollo 11 command module Columbia, had since 1976 resided in a place of honor in that space. But when the Milestones team was planning the redesign, the Museum already had other plans for that historic spacecraft. After a national tour during the 50th anniversary year, Columbia would return to its own exhibit elsewhere in the building on the National Mall. So the long-legged LM-2 took a prominent place as a cornerstone artifact of our entrance gallery. Created for orbital tests, but never flown, the real spacecraft is displayed to illustrate the landing of Apollo 11’s LM-5, Eagle, on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Having a tactile model alongside the artifact display allows visitors to engage with the large, out-of-reach artifact in new ways.
But creating a touchable model is not as simple as scaling down the measurements and details of the artifact. The actual LM has too much detail and too many tiny pieces that would break off after repeated handling. And legs that were designed to absorb the force of landing on the lunar surface would not withstand millions of curious hands if the proportions remained exactly the same. Additionally, the 3D printed model needed to be constructed so that it was no more than 10 inches tall and could then be assembled and bolted to an exhibit stand. As a result, the tactile model offers a sense of the object, but not necessarily an exact replica of the original—and is obviously quite a bit smaller!
And now, four years after the tactile model was added to Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, and just in time for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, you can print your own tactile model of the lunar module.
So whether you print your own or plan to celebrate with us at the Museum this July, make sure to give the miniature LM touchable model a gentle pat. And use your hands to gain a new appreciation for the amazing achievement of landing human beings on another world.
We want to see your copy of the touchable LM. Post a photo on social media with the hashtag #Apollo50 and make sure to tag @airandspace on Twitter and @airandspacemuseum on Instagram.