New Apollo Curiosities for Our Galleries

New Apollo Curiosities for Our Galleries

22/06/2016Written by Dan Kendall

Our curator tells the story behind some new Apollo-era artefacts for our galleries.

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We all love getting new stuff, right? In fact, the only thing better than getting new stuff is getting new old stuff. And new old stuff is exactly what we have just got!

Acquiring objects for our Space Oddities gallery is one of the most fun things I get to do. The quirkier the better as far as I am concerned. These odd space objects sit alongside our spacecraft, rockets, and meteorites, allowing me to share some of the more unusual stories from space history.

The fun part is that, as the Curator at the National Space Centre, I get to pick what stuff you get to see.

So check out the latest objects acquired by the National Space Centre:

Snoopy Doll

Snoopy Doll

When the crew of Apollo 10 came up with names for their Command and Lunar Modules, they chose that most iconic of pairings, Snoopy and Charlie Brown.

If you’ve ever visited the Science Museum in London, you might have seen ‘Charlie Brown’ – the Command Module that took the Apollo 10 crew on a dress rehearsal to the Moon and back, a few months before Apollo 11.

Now though, the Space Centre has acquired ‘Snoopy’. Sadly, it’s not the Lunar Module ‘Snoopy’ – that was sent into solar orbit after the crew had returned to ‘Charlie Brown’. But in my opinion, our Snoopy is way cuter anyway. Especially as it is signed by Gene Cernan himself – Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 10.

By the time the Apollo 11 crew were ready to make their historic flight, NASA felt that more serious names were called for – the slightly more patriotic ‘Columbia’ and ‘Eagle’ were eventually selected.

Had the top brass at NASA not intervened, who knows what Neil Armstrong might have said as he touched down on the Moon – “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The ‘Dennis the Menace’ has landed.”? OK, OK, perhaps not – but stranger things have happened!

Giant Joke Cheque

Giant Joke Cheque
Image Credit: NASA

What do you get as a retirement gift for the man who you trust most at work?

1 million Deutschemarks of course!

That’s exactly what happened when astronauts Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin prepared for the last Gemini mission, Gemini 12. Pad Leader Guenter Wendt was something of a legend at NASA, with the astronauts of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo trusting him with their lives.

As Pad Leader, Wendt was the last person the crew saw before they launched. He checked them into their spacecraft, making sure he was happy with everything in those final moments before shaking the crew’s hands and sending them on their way.

This joke cheque was one of many gifts given to Wendt by astronauts over the years, as a sort of launch tradition. Making out the cheque for 1 million Deutschemarks was a reference to Wendt’s German heritage and was a tribute to the fact that this was supposed to be his final mission. However, astronaut Wally Schirra managed to persuade him out of retirement for the manned Apollo missions – convincing contractors North American Aviation to hire him, after he had not been Pad Leader for the tragic Apollo 1 fire.

Sun Compass

Sun Compass

This strange object shows how NASA made use of some pretty archaic technology on the Moon. Used in training for Apollo 15, this Sun Compass was an essential bit of kit designed to help orientate astronauts on the alien lunar surface.

Apollo 15 was the first mission to use the Lunar Rover Vehicle, allowing the astronauts to travel further from the Lunar Module than ever before – sometimes journeying so far that they could no longer see it.

The Lunar Rover relied on a navigation system so that the astronauts knew where they were, ensuring that they could get back to their spacecraft before running out of oxygen. However, NASA was concerned about having only one system to navigate by. What if it failed? A standard magnetic compass wouldn’t work on the Moon because its magnetic field is so much weaker than Earth’s, so NASA turned to technology dating back at least as far as the 14th Century.

Using a Sun Compass alongside an Overlay Map, astronauts could plot their course and in an emergency find their way back to the Lunar Module in a hurry.

Image Credit: NASA

Apollo Warning Indicator Panel

Apollo Warning Indicator Panel

An annunciator is a group of lights used to highlight the condition of equipment in an aircraft or spacecraft – acting as a warning system for the pilot by lighting up when there is a problem.

This one is a rare early example from a Block I Apollo Command Module. The design for the Command Module Annunciator changed after the Apollo 1 disaster – when the crew died after an electrical fault started a fire in the Command Module. In this picture you can see that the first column of lights has been taken out, exposing the circuit board and wiring. After the Apollo 1 fire, the circuitry and wiring inside the Command Module came under a lot of scrutiny. It is possible that investigating units like this one was part of that process, leading to the changes in design.

Emilio Pucci Sketch

Emilio Pucci Sketch

Throughout the Apollo programme, astronauts were given the chance to design their own mission patch.

The crew of Apollo 15 approached Italian fashion designer Emilio Pucci to help with theirs. Pucci, a favourite of Marilyn Monroe who is said to have been buried in one of his dresses, came up with three stylised birds to represent the crew flying above the Moon’s surface.

This sketch was submitted to the crew in 1970 and is a revised version of the original design, in response to their feedback requesting the use of a red, white and blue colour scheme.

The final version of the mission patch was completed by NASA graphic artist Jerry Elmore, using Pucci’s sketches and ideas. Elmore added detail to the lunar surface that the birds are flying over, and also changed the order of the colours and fine-tuned the text layout.

Clearly Elmore contributed just as much to the design as the famed fashion designer did!

Lunar Olympics

Lunar Olympics

The Apollo 14 mission achieved many firsts – including the first ‘Lunar Olympics’.

Five minutes before re-entering the Lunar Module to return home, Alan Shepard and Ed Mitchell decided they had time for a bit of sport. Shepard famously converted a handle from a rock collecting tool to hit the first golf ball on the Moon with his modified 6-iron. Mitchell followed suit and used a staff from the Solar Wind Composition Experiment to throw like a javelin.

Mitchell has written up his story of the ‘Lunar Olympics’ on this Official Major League Baseball, signing it alongside a description of the Moon’s surface. He proudly boasts that his javelin throw won by four inches – which can be seen in the photo taken of the golf ball and javelin before they took off!

So over the coming months and years, don’t be surprised to find Snoopy dolls or baseballs displayed alongside our famous rockets, spacecraft, and meteorites – there are plenty of Space Oddities to explore.