See Columbia in Your City or At Home

Posted on Sat, October 14, 2017

Today, the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia will go on display at Space Center Houston, the first of four stops in the national tour Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission. This is the first time the Command Module has left the nation’s capital since 1971. If you plan to see the Module in your city—the tour will travel to St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Seattle over the next two years—we have an excellent way to prepare. Or if you’re looking to dive into Apollo history on the comfort of your own couch, we also have you covered.

With state-of-the-art 3D scanning and photogrammetry (a big word for precisely directed photography), we released a never-before-seen view of inside (and outside) the Command Module last year. Museum curator Allan Needell applied his years of research and expertise to the task of creating customized tours with the 3D rendering—including a very special tour that can only be seen, for now, in Destination Moon.

Explore the Command Module in 3D below, then see what our curator had to say about the project. (Note: Best viewed on Firefox, Chrome, or Internet Explorer.)



Q&A with Command Module Curator Allan Needell

How did you choose what to highlight in these 3D tours?
Over the years, visitors posed to me and to our docents many questions about the features directly visible on the Command Module. We tried to answer most of those questions in the online exterior tour.

For the interior tour, we tried to anticipate what questions people might have about the major components after looking inside the Module. For 40 years, very few people have been able to look inside. We also wanted to add detail about features that might need additional explanation to be understood. It’s a very complicated piece of hardware. 

We hope that people, as they explore the 3D model and tours, will share what questions come to mind or areas where they’d like more information. We plan to create new tours in the future and enhance the ones that already exist, so feedback is very appreciated. 

What are you hoping people will take away from the 3D tour?
I hope people walk away with an appreciation for the real artifact. These 3D models capture the complexity of the Module and connect you to it in a way that’s more powerful than a photograph or a written description.

I also hope it serves as a jumping off point for asking more questions about the artifact and the Apollo Program.  

What’s something that surprised you about seeing the final 3D renderings?
Personally, I’ve only been able to look inside the Command Module a handful of times, and even then, it was difficult to make out detail. The 3D renderings helped me see many things I either hadn’t seen or hadn’t understood before.

A good example is the guidance and navigation system. Looking inside the Command Module I could see that the apertures for the navigation system telescope and sextant had flat covers rather than the eyepieces depicted in familiar diagrams. I feared the eyepieces might have been lost. Looking further made me wonder, where would the eyepieces have been stored during reentry.  I soon noticed that right above the navigation station apertures were two small latches and a small locker compartment. I asked our conservator to look inside the locker, and there they were, the missing eye pieces. We were able to photograph them, and officially accession them into our collection.

What most excites you about this project?
As a curator, we have a responsibility to preserve these artifacts for future generations, but we also have a responsibility to make them accessible to the public and to researchers. Often, the two responsibilities compete with each other. The more access we grant to the artifact, the more we’re endangering it. This was a rare opportunity to give access and preserve the original artifact.