Apollo artifacts have begun to receive increased scrutiny in light of recent discussions about returning humans to the Moon and the upcoming 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo missions. What did astronauts of the 1960s and 1970s bring back from the Moon? What was left behind? And how can we verify the authenticity of any of those objects if they have been or will be recovered? Fortunately, there is a large amount of printed documentation available to help curators, engineers, scientists, and others document, preserve, and interpret those items.
Today, we are publicly launching an exciting initiative to transcribe Apollo stowage lists of all government- and contractor-provided equipment stowed on the Command and Lunar Modules during the six successful Apollo missions to the Moon. With the help of digital volunteers these transcriptions will eventually lead to a reliable and searchable database.
Among the most important artifacts in the Smithsonian’s vast collections are those recovered directly from the Apollo Command Modules after they returned to Earth. As the curator for our Apollo artifacts, I am extremely proud and humbled by my responsibility to care for such historically significant objects. Items like those pictured in this diagram from the Apollo Command Module Operations Handbook have been accepted into our collections and cataloged. Others were expended or left behind during the missions.
Detailed information about stowed items is recorded in a set of “as flown” stowage lists revised and issued just prior to each mission’s launch. These lists document what items were officially to be stored on the spacecraft, both the Command Module and Lunar Module, and which items were to be transferred from one to another before landing and after rendezvous in lunar orbit following a successful landing. Printed copies of stowage lists from Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 reside in the Museum’s Archives (catalog number: 2015-0018). They, like the Operations Handbook, are available on the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal website.
We have made continual use of the stowage lists over the years. One major challenge, however, stems from the quality of the existing copies. They are extremely difficult to search or sort—whether by object name, part number, or spacecraft storage location. For a long time, we have dreamed of creating a searchable electronic database of this information.
Such a database would retain information about where the items were stowed, when they were to be removed from their original containers, and if and when they were scheduled for transfer from one spacecraft to another (e.g., from the Command Modules to the Lunar Modules and back). Having this, would help us establish detailed histories of objects in our collection. And, we hope, such a database, once we can develop a platform for sharing, will also prove invaluable to others, including those who will be tasked with the awesome responsibility of developing policies for the treatment and possible recovery of Apollo artifacts currently residing on the Moon.
Beginning today, interested digital volunteers with the Smithsonian Institution’s Transcription Center will help us do just that by taking the first step to transcribe the stowage lists. Space enthusiasts can now join the more than 5,600 digital volunteers currently working with the Transcription Center on an extraordinary array of fascinating projects. We are asking them to log in and carefully transcribe more than 1,000 pages of the “as flown” Apollo stowage lists and to review and check the transcriptions for accuracy and consistency. The result, after we make our own careful review, will be a searchable, sortable database we can use and share with others.
This marks the National Air and Space Museum’s first collaboration with the Smithsonian Transcription Center. We are excited to begin this collaboration and hope some of you will become volunteers. If you are interested, it’s easy to get started. Begin by reviewing these instructions at the Transcription Center website, then choose a page to transcribe or review.
We look forward to sharing our progress with you. We tested the system earlier this year with the Apollo 12 stowage lists, which are now complete. Missions will be opened for transcription and review one at a time starting today.
Allan Needell is a curator in the Space History Department.
On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space. However, three months earlier NASA had launched “Number 65” on a mission that helped pave the way for Shephard’s momentous flight.
Number 65 was a male chimpanzee born in 1957 in the French Cameroons in West Africa. After being captured by trappers, he was sent to a rare bird farm in Florida. In 1959, he was sold to the U.S. Air Force, who sent him to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. There he would take part in training to become an astrochimp.
Nicknamed “Ham” by his handlers (after Holoman Aerospace Medical Center), Number 65 was one of 40 chimps chosen for the space program. While numerous animals had been launched into space by both the Americans and Soviets as early as 1948 (dogs, monkeys, mice, a rabbit, and even fruit flies), the test subjects had thus far been mere passengers. By the 1950s, before sending a human into the unknown, NASA wanted to conduct tests to find out if an astronaut would be able to perform motor tasks in space.
Why were chimpanzees chosen, and what would they do that the other animals did not? According to NASA’s publication, This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, (“Ham Paves the Way” chapter):
Intelligent and normally docile, the chimpanzee is a primate of sufficient size and sapience to provide a reasonable facsimile of human behavior. Its average response time to a given physical stimulus is .7 of a second, compared with man’s average .5 second. Having the same organ placement and internal suspension as man, plus a long medical research background, the chimpanzee chosen to ride the Redstone and perform a lever-pulling chore throughout the mission should not only test out the life-support systems but prove that levers could be pulled during launch, weightlessness, and reentry.
The chimps were taught to pull levers in response to sound and light. If they reacted correctly within five seconds, they were rewarded with banana pellets; if not, they got a mild shock on the soles of their feet. The animals were also exposed to simulated g-forces and microgravity to prepare them for spaceflight, just like their human counterparts, the “Mercury Seven,” who had been training for nearly two years.
As tests proceeded, the group of would-be space travelers was whittled down to 18, and then six (four females and two males). Ham was chosen as one of the finalists. On January 2, 1961, the six animals were moved from Holloman to Cape Canaveral, Florida, and separated into two groups. This was to avoid the spread of germs to all the chimps should one become ill. Mercury capsule mock-ups were built for both groups, and the chimps spent their days performing motor tasks during 29 training sessions lasting until the third week in January.
Until the day before the scheduled launch date of January 31, all six finalists were still in the running for the title of first chimp in space. Then, the decision had to be made about which of them would go on the flight. James P. Henry of NASA’s Space Task Group (STG) and John D. Mosely, the veterinarian from Holloman, would make the selection after the animals were given physical examinations and other tests. Ham, who was acting particularly feisty and in good humor, got the nod, and a female chimp was selected as alternate.
A History of Project Mercury details what happened next:
At nineteen hours before launch these two animals were put on low-residue diets, fitted with biosensors, and checked out in their pressurized couch-cabins. Seven and one-half hours before the flight a second physical examination was given, followed by more sensor and psychomotor tests. About four hours before launch, the two chimps were suited up, placed in their couches, and brought aboard the transfer van, where their environmental control equipment was attached. The trailer truck arrived at the gantry alongside MR-2, and there, an hour and a half before the scheduled launch time, the chimpanzee named “Ham,” … still active and spirited although encased in his biopack, boarded the elevator to meet his destiny.
Ham rode into space in Mercury spacecraft #5, boosted by a Mercury-Redstone 2 rocket. He was strapped into a harness inside a pressurized capsule like the one below. This is the “couch-cabin” referred to above. The capsule would allow him to breathe if the cabin pressure in the spacecraft failed. The Museum has seven primate capsules, but none is currently on public display. The capsules are made of aluminum and fiberglass, with two Plexiglas windows. They measure 101.6 x 50.8 x 40.64 centimeters (40 x 20 x 16 inches), and were manufactured by McDonnell Aircraft Corp.
During the flight, Ham’s reaction to weightlessness and acceleration was tested by his performing the lever-pulling tasks he had trained for.
According to A Brief History of Animals in Space published by the NASA History Office, the flight did not go completely as planned:
The original flight plan called for an altitude of 115 miles and speeds ranging up to 4,400 mph. However, due to technical problems, the spacecraft carrying Ham reached an altitude of 157 miles and a speed of 5,857 mph and landed 422 miles downrange rather than the anticipated 290 miles… He experienced a total of 6.6 minutes of weightlessness during a 16.5-minute flight.
In addition, there was a partial loss of air pressure while in space, but disaster was averted because of the pressurized capsule encasing Ham. After splashdown, water flooded the capsule and if the rescue helicopter had not arrived when it did, Ham might have drowned.
Despite these difficulties, Ham seemed calm and in good spirits upon his return. He shook hands with the commander of the recovery ship and others, and readily accepted an apple. He did become agitated later when faced with the paparazzi, however, according to the post-flight report:
Robert F. Wallace, an STG information officer on the scene, reported that Ham was excited when returned to Hangar S after his flight. Being unable to debrief his handlers, Ham alone knew at this time how grueling his flight had been. Flashbulbs and crowding newsmen made him highly agitated, and he snapped at several people… Later, when his handler led him back toward a capsule for pictures requested by the TV crews, Ham again became highly perturbed. It took three men to calm the ‘astrochimp’ for the next round of pictures.
A medical examination revealed Ham was slightly fatigued and dehydrated, but otherwise fine. Results of the tasks he performed showed his reaction times were only slightly slower than on Earth, proving that astronauts could perform activities effectively in space. But Ham’s contribution to the future of human spaceflight was much more than that. To quote A History of Project Mercury:
Ham’s flight on MR-2 was a significant accomplishment on the American route toward manned space flight. Now the Space Task Group knew that even with some hazardous malfunction it might reasonably hope to complete a manned ballistic mission successfully. Ham’s survival, despite a host of harrowing mischances over which he had no control, raised the confidence of the astronauts and the capsule engineers alike.
Ham gained instant fame, and was featured in numerous articles, on magazine covers, and on television many times. Documentaries were made about him. He lived at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC until 1980, when he was transferred to the North Carolina Zoological Park in Asheboro. When he died in 1983, Ham’s skeleton went to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology for further investigation. His other remains were buried at the International Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
A second astrochimp, Enos, was launched into space in November 1961, this time entering Earth orbit. It was the precursor to John Glenn’s orbital flight in 1962.
Watch a nine-minute video about Ham’s training and spaceflight.
Kathleen Hanser is a writer-editor in the Office of Communications at the National Air and Space Museum.
I’ve done a lot of “cool” things as an educator at this Museum: performed a solar system dance with Miss America, chatted with astronauts, and given people their first awe-inspiring views through a telescope. But I have to say, my most recent experience was truly out of this world.
On Monday, October 19, 2015, I participated in the second Astronomy Night at the White House. This event is designed to get youth excited about astronomy, space exploration, science, and engineering. More than 80 stargazing events were hosted around the country that night, including one at our own Public Observatory. But the flagship event, with nearly 300 guests that included students, scientists, astronauts, and popular science advocates, was held on the grounds of the White House, and I was there.
My role for the evening sounded simple: set up a telescope for the president to observe the Moon. Except, it turned out to be anything but simple! After getting the Observatory’s 28-centimeter (11-inch) telescope onto the stage and pointed at the Moon, I noticed the Moon kept drifting upwards in the view. The telescope’s “tracking,” following objects as they move across the sky, was off because my tripod wasn’t perfectly aligned north. But there wasn’t time to fix it. In the minutes before the president appeared, I adjusted the telescope until the Moon was almost out of sight at the bottom, estimating how much it would shift during the 15 minutes of his speech. Then it was time to take my seat and wait.
The president’s remarks made it clear he was really excited about hosting this event and enjoys science. When he stepped up to the telescope’s eyepiece and looked in, he said, “Wow … I have to say, that’s really spectacular!” I’ve never felt such a sense of relief in my life — he could see it! He even lingered over the view and commented on details, with a distinctive sound of awe coming through in the tone of his voice. The president of our country got to view something beautiful, and I was part of making it possible. I felt honored.
I wasn’t the only person from the Museum who participated in Astronomy Night. My education colleagues Geneviève de Messières and Jenny McIntosh worked for months with the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to plan this event. Geneviève helped organize the astronomical observing for the guests, coordinating 18 telescopes and their enthusiastic operators on a busy lawn full of excited people. In thinking back on the experience, she said, “All of the work and planning was for those students I watched filtering in through the gates. If just a few feel inspired to become scientists, the evening was a huge success.”
Jenny brought an authentic-looking spacesuit reproduction, which is usually available to the public at the Udvar-Hazy Center, and put it on the stage where it stood next to the president during his remarks. I lost count of how many actual astronauts and other people I later saw taking pictures with it! Jenny recalls how she felt about the event, “It was magical to be on stage where our equipment was, where the president was soon to be, with the lights and stars twinkling plus the crowds all excited. I couldn’t help but think, ‘I have the best job in the world.’”
We really do have the best jobs in the world. This Museum is a fountain of amazing opportunities for an educator, from the great questions visitors ask every day to the wide-eyed “wow moments” that people have at the observatory. And now I’ve helped the president observe the Moon. I wonder what I’ll get to do next?
Shauna Edson is an astronomy education specialist at the National Air and Space Museum
A few weeks ago we made a huge announcement that our Explainers Program would be expanding. The exciting news made us ponder: What does it mean to be an Explainer? So we sat down with two of them to find out.
Kellen is an Explainer at the Museum in Washington, DC, and a senior at American University.
Coming into my sophomore year at American University I really wanted to do something more exciting than a typical college job. While at the Federal Work Study job fair I stumbled upon a table littered with model planes, rockets, and science experiments. I have always had an interest in history, especially the history of science and engineering, so I decided to apply. To my great pride I was accepted into the Explainers Program. Every day I wake up happy to head off to work.
This Program has introduced me to many important people that few are lucky enough to see once in a lifetime. However, the best part of the job is the people I meet every day throughout the Museum. A few weeks ago I met a 10-year-old girl who told me she was going to be the first person to step foot on Mars. When I said I thought it was a great goal to have, she scoffed and said, “It’s not a goal, it’s a fact!” Being able to help inspire kids with the work we do has been the biggest payoff for me.
I decided to start studying physics at the same time I began as an Explainer, but little did I know that the interactions I was having would lead me to the addition of an Education minor. I am passionate about STEM education, and that is all thanks to my colleagues at the Museum. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am now without them.
Beth is and Explainer at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia, and is a junior in high school.
A few days after the opening of the Udvar-Hazy Center (not long after my fourth birthday), my family made the first of many visits to the Museum. I am still just as in awe as I walk through the doors as I was back then, greeted by elegant architecture and aircraft hanging from the ceiling. I still look forward to coming to the Museum every week, and I can hardly believe how lucky I am to work at a place I have loved my whole life.
Growing up near Washington, DC, I have always enjoyed visiting Museums, but the Udvar-Hazy Center remains my favorite. When I learned about the Explainers Program, I knew I had to apply. While many of my peers are working in retail or food service, I have been given the amazing opportunity to work in the midst of history and teach others about science. Every day I work, I get to meet interesting visitors who love what the Explainers bring to the Museum. One of my first duties was to help with the Innovations in Flight Family Day, and that’s when I realized how eager the public was to experience everything the Museum has to offer. I also really enjoy the Smithsonian TechQuest program Astronaut Academy because it is a fun and interactive experience that encourages children to become curious about space.
Becoming an Explainer has opened so many doors for me. The training I receive is hugely valuable and complements my high school coursework. Because I enjoy the job so much, I plan to continue working as an Explainer through high school and college. I also love working with a diverse group of intelligent and ambitious students who share similar interests. Leading activities and speaking to the public has increased my confidence, and I find it much easier to talk in front of a large crowd. Working as an Explainer has led me to be curious about historic preservation and museum operations. I have started thinking seriously about college majors and future career choices, and Museum Studies is an area I am strongly considering.
Explainers at the Museum are high school and college students who present informal science programs to visitors. They come from all corners of the country, but at some point go to school in Northern Virginia, Maryland, or Washington, DC. Our current corps of Explainers range in age from 16 to 42 and at any given time are in school in the local area, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Missouri, Georgia, North Carolina, Delaware, Massachusetts, England, and even France.
Are you interested in becoming an Explainer? Learn more about the Program and apply online today!
Shannon Marriott is the Explainers Program coordinator at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center