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Historic Apollo 11 Module That Took Humans To The Moon Is Landing In Cincinnati

Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES)
The Apollo 11 command module, "Columbia."

The historic command module that took the Apollo 11 crew to the moon and back in July 1969 is coming to Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Museum Center will be the fifth and final stop for Columbia and the Smithsonian's traveling exhibition "Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission."

"Oh my god!" exclaims Museum Center CEO Elizabeth Pierce. "It is the most exciting thing that we could possibly do to follow up on the opening of Union Terminal as a fully-restored place. It's just an unbelievable opportunity; a breathtaking, incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to present 'Destination Moon' to the Cincinnati region."

The exhibit explores the mission and all that went into getting to the moon, such as "the more than 400,000 people employed in NASA programs who worked through the trials, tragedies and triumphs of the 20 missions from 1961 to 1969 culminating with Apollo 11's historic feat," according to a news release. That includes the Columbia command module, the only part of the spacecraft that orbited the moon and returned to Earth, along with models, videos and more than 20 objects that flew on Apollo 11.

"Neil Armstrong took all the photos on the moon," says Dave Duszynski, vice president of featured experiences at the Cincinnati Museum Center. "He was in charge of all the photos so he was never in any of the photos except for the famous photo of his reflection in Buzz Aldrin's helmet, and that helmet is part of the display."

Credit Courtesy of the NASA History Office and the NASA JSC Media Services Center
The iconic image of Buzz Aldrin with Neil Armstrong's reflection visible in his helmet's visor.

"Destination Moon" will open Sept. 28, 2019, and run through Feb. 17, 2020.

The exhibit arrives as NASA is commemorating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon on July 20, 1969. Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins made history just hours later as Armstrong and Aldrin became the first two humans to walk on the surface of the moon, with Armstrong uttering the now-immortalized phrase, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."

The traveling exhibit marks the first time Columbia has left the National Air and Space Museum since 1976. From Cincinnati it will return to Washington, D.C. to await the 2022 opening of its new space currently under renovation.

Duszynski says the museum center lobbied hard for approximately four years to bring the exhibit to Cincinnati. The CMC argued the location made sense because of Armstrong's connection to the museum. He supported the museum over the years he lived in Cincinnati and served on its board for a time.

"It just makes perfect sense," according to Pierce. "Neil Armstrong was the former board chair of the Museum of Natural History. He was a big advocate for Union Terminal - for her restoration - and to have this incredible 'Destination Moon' exhibition come in this 50th anniversary year to his museum, to his community, it gives everybody goose bumps."

"We think this is a phenomenal opportunity for the museum center, one of the most exciting things that we've ever brought into the building," says Duszynski. "The command module is certainly a national treasure, certainly one of the top couple treasures that exist for the United States and its citizens. It's an extremely rare opportunity for us to be able to have this, so from our perspective, this is one of the coolest things that we've ever done or had here at the museum center."

Pierce points out the CMC wouldn't have been able to host the exhibit were it not for the recently completed Union Terminal restoration.

"Having the building and the mechanical systems provide the absolute top-notch, humidity-controlled, security-controlled space available, and to be able to, with relative ease, move such significant artifacts into this building, makes it the perfect destination."

The Cincinnati Museum Center earlier this yearopened the Neil Armstrong Space Exploration Gallery, a permanent exhibit featuring Armstrong's inflight jacket, communications cap and the moon rock collected where he took his first steps.

A previous version of this story said Columbia landed on the moon. It did not land on the moon; it orbited the moon. 

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.