AidSpace Blog

The Armstrong Purse: Flown Apollo 11 Lunar Artifacts

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At the National Air and Space Museum, as elsewhere around the world, we were enormously saddened when we learned that Neil Alden Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon, had died of complications associated with heart surgery in August 2012. Not long afterwards his family contacted the Museum about artifacts he left in his home office in Ohio. In November, Museum curators Margaret Weitekamp (social and cultural history of space exploration), Alex Spencer (personal aeronautical equipment), and I (as Apollo curator) traveled to Cincinnati and were warmly greeted by his widow, Carol. We reviewed the items with the intention of listing those we felt appropriate for possible donation to the National Collection. The Armstrong family had already decided to donate Neil’s correspondence and paper files to his alma mater, Purdue University. The remaining collection of personal items and memorabilia was also extremely rich. Margaret and Alex may have the opportunity to write about these items in the near future.

This post is about something else however. A few weeks after we returned to Washington, D.C., I received an email from Carol Armstrong that she had located in one of Neil’s closets a white cloth bag filled with assorted small items that looked like they may have come from a spacecraft. She wanted to know if they were also of interest to the Museum. She provided the following photograph of the bag and the items spread out on her carpet.

Photograph provided by Carol Armstrong showing the objects found within the white cloth bag.

Needless to say, for a curator of a collection of space artifacts, it is hard to imagine anything more exciting. Realizing how important it would be to determine whether any or all of these items were actually flown in the Lunar Module Eagle during the historic Apollo 11 mission, I decided to enlist the expertise of Eric Jones, Ken Glover, and the team of experts who have put together the incredible Apollo Lunar Surface Journal (ALSJ) website, an indispensable site of detailed information about all aspects of the Apollo program.

The bag itself was immediately recognizable in that the ALSJ long has had a page devoted to what the astronauts referred to as a McDivitt Purse. The purse was a special container (officially called a Temporary Stowage Bag or TSB) stowed in the Lunar Module during launch but specially fitted with pins that fit into sockets in front of the Commander’s station to the left of the Lunar Module hatch. The TSB looks like a clutch purse in the way it opens and closes.

Apollo 11 Temporary Stowage Bag

The astronauts referred to it as a McDivitt purse, apparently because the need for a bag to temporarily stow items when there wasn’t time to return them to fixed stowage locations was first suggested by Apollo 9 Commander James McDivitt.

After a close examination of detailed photographs taken when the objects were in the Armstrong family’s possession and after they were shipped for cataloging and research to the National Air and Space Museum, the ALSJ experts were able to determine with almost complete certainty that all of the items were indeed from the Eagle, and that — although they were formally scheduled to be left behind — they were assembled in the Temporary Stowage Bag and saved from the fate that awaited Eagle’s ascent stage and all of its contents: crashing into the lunar surface.

Evidence that the items were intentionally preserved is found in the mission transcripts themselves. (The transcripts of voice communications are the documents around which the entire ALSJ is organized.) The rescued items are referenced by the Apollo 11 crew soon after Neil and Buzz Aldrin rejoined Michael Collins in lunar orbit. While still in the Lunar Module and after lunar orbit rendezvous with the Command Module, Neil and Buzz spent considerable time passing over to Mike the rock boxes and the contingency samples they had collected from the Moon. Less than an hour before they were ready to jettison Eagle, mission transcripts record Armstrong saying to Collins (Mission Elapsed Time (MET): 129:14:53): “You know, that — that one’s just a bunch of trash that we want to take back — LM parts, odds and ends, and it won’t stay closed by itself. We’ll have to figure something out for it.”

Later (MET 181:38:04) they would describe to mission control the container with the “odds and ends” as, “10 pounds of LM miscellaneous equipment.” It was important they account for the amount and distribution of any added weight so that the return trajectory and entry parameters could be calculated with precision.

As far as we know, Neil has never discussed the existence of these items and no one else has seen them in the 45 years since he returned from the Moon. (I asked James Hansen, Neil’s authorized biographer if he had mentioned the items, and he had not.) Each and every item has its own story and significance, and they are described with photographs in extraordinary detail in an addendum to the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. But two of the items are especially timely. Both have been placed on display as part of the recently opened temporary exhibition Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity.

The first is the 16mm Data Acquisition Camera that was mounted in the window of the lunar module Eagle to record the historic landing and “one small step” made by Armstrong as humankind first set foot on another world.

Apollo 11 16mm Data Acquisition Camera. Below are a handful of images captured by this camera.

Neil Armstrong about to step on the Lunar surface as recorded by the 16mm Data Acquisition Camera.

Camera view of Neil and Buzz setting the American Flag.

The second is one of two waist tethers provided in the lunar module explicitly for securing astronauts should they have to spacewalk from the Lunar Module back to the Command Module had there been a problem reconnecting the two spacecraft in orbit around the Moon. We have determined that this tether was the one Neil Armstrong jerry-rigged to support his feet during the single rest period on the Moon, a story well told and documented in the new Journal entry.

Apollo 11 Waist Tether used by Neil Armstrong to suspend his legs as he attempted to get comfortable during the rest period inside the Lunar Module.

In the future, we hope to complete documenting and cataloging the entire collection of items and, as appropriate, to place them on public display. Seeing such things with one’s own eyes helps us to appreciate that these accomplishments are not just in history books or movies, but involved real people and real things, and that they involved an extraordinary amount of detailed engineering and planning.

Allan Needell is a curator in the Space History Department.

Need more detail? Visit the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal website for extensive information on this collection of objects.

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Heinkel Night Fighter He 219: Wing Painting Complete

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Another important step in finishing the Museum’s He 219 Uhu (Owl) night fighter has been completed. Recently, the wing was painted and transported to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, for the aircraft’s final assembly. The painting stage was no easy task, and it required a lot of careful research before the actual work began.

The Paint Scheme of the Wing
During World War II, the Luftwaffe (the German Air Force) standardized all its aircraft colors as registered by the Reich Aviation Ministry (RLM). Most Luftwaffe aircraft were delivered from the production line in standard RLM (camouflage) colors and patterns, which were, in many cases, promptly “field” modified by the ground crews at the field air bases, or at unit level.

Under the wing root of the He 219, the original wave pattern (Wellenmuster) of the night fighter’s camouflage paint was still clearly visible. Museum specialists used these traces for reference to recreate the wave pattern on the fuselage, and now the wing. Photo: Dave Wilson

He 219s were produced primarily in one of two color schemes. In both schemes, as per RLM regulation, upper surfaces were sprayed with a base color of RLM 75 Grauviolett (Gray Violet) and camouflage patterns subsequently applied in RLM 76 Lichtblau (Light Blue), or one of the late war variants ranging from “duck egg” blue to green. The difference in schemes shows in the treatment of the lower surfaces. Early models generally had undersurfaces painted in RLM 22 Schwarz (Black), while later models had the undersides painted in RLM 76 or one of the above- mentioned late war variants.

The Museum’s aircraft may be unique in that it appears to fall in the transitional period between the two different schemes. All indications are that it left the factory with undersurfaces in black. At some point in its short career of less than a year, between July 1944 and May 1945, the undersurfaces were overpainted with the upper camouflage variant color, probably at the unit level.

Mylar tracings of the original pattern are draped over the airframe to show how the pattern replicated by museum specialist Dave Wilson mirrors that of the original (shown here at the fuselage, just aft of the wing root). Photo: Ed Mautner

To find the perfect color match, museum specialist Dave Wilson compared the known RLM color standards with several original paint samples of both the light blue and gray violet paint found in protected areas of the He 219′s fuselage. These samples were devoid of light and contaminants and provided the best possible references on which to base the color match mixed by Dave in-house. Dave then applied two coats of epoxy primer to the upper surfaces, immediately followed by three coats of acrylic urethane in RLM 75. This formed the background on which the camouflage pattern would later be applied. The next step was to apply two coats of epoxy primer and three coats of black acrylic urethane to the lower surfaces.

Both gray violet and black topcoats were applied with the wing in its work fixture standing vertically and leading edge down. In this orientation, lower wing Balkenkreuz, stencils and hand-painted placards were rendered to the bottom surfaces of the wing.

Dave Wilson during the application of the wave pattern. Photo: Jonathan R. Barrett

In late summer 2014, the massive wing—weighing about 2,200 kilograms (4,900 pounds)—was pulled outside of its hangar at the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility and rotated from vertical to horizontal orientation in preparation for spraying the camouflage pattern to the upper surfaces. (See our blog post from August). After the rotation, the wing was returned to the facility’s paint booth, where temperature and lighting conditions during the storage and painting process could be carefully controlled.

Dave began the painting process by first masking the restored nacelle areas and original painted surfaces of the flap wells. A special low tack masking tape was used over the original paint, as standard masking tape would have resulted in pulling off the fragile paint. Next, the parting line between the lower surfaces and upper surfaces was masked using another specialized masking tape, round in profile and made of foam. This tape is specifically designed to result in a “soft” edge rather than the hard tape line which normally is created by standard masking tape. Since Dave worked very carefully to preserve as much of the original paint as possible, the masking process alone took nearly two weeks to complete. Then, the aircraft was ready for the application of the “Wellenmuster” (wave pattern)—or as the restorers in-house call it, the “squiggle pattern.” Recreating this wave pattern was a fascinating process in itself.

A closer look at the lower wing starboard Balkenkreuz, its shape laid out by masking tape. Photo: Dave Wilson

The original camouflage on the upper surfaces of the fuselage was intact, although badly degraded. Tracings were made of the patterns on sheets of clear Mylar and these patterns were transferred onto the freshly painted base coat of RLM 75 Gray Violet, creating a sort of “paint by numbers” guide to follow when the pattern was actually sprayed. By using this method, the camouflage pattern was duplicated as exact as possible to what was originally there.

The wing, however, presented a different challenge. The paint on the upper surfaces of the wing was entirely eroded away with no trace of what the original pattern looked like. Unlike the camouflaging of the fuselage, there were no tracings to use as templates for the wing. It was decided the best course of action was to “free hand” the application of the “squiggles” approximating the pattern as best as possible. In preparation, several large sheets of plastic were rolled out over the floor of the paint booth, and the pattern was practice sprayed using surplus paint. While Dave got some practice painting the “squiggles” this way, it also allowed him to fine tune the spray gun adjustments and the viscosity of the paint. This way he was able to minimize the chance for runs or sags while applying the camouflage pattern.

The spraying of the “squiggles” was quite tricky as it required a combination of standing and kneeling on the wing itself to reach those areas where the wing chord was too wide to be reached any other way. Dave started at the center of the wing root and moved toward the wing tip, away from those areas that he had just painted. The wave pattern was applied in two coats. This meant that only a limited surface area could be sprayed at one time before the second coat needed to be applied, otherwise, Dave would have been walking on surfaces he just sprayed. In all, it took about 12 hours (six hours per side) to complete the application of the wave pattern. Under the conditions of World War II, workers on the manufacturing sites or the field crews would have spent far less time on this task—however, they were not re-creating history, they were making it!

The finished wing, with the rearward half of the Balkenkreuz left untouched. Photo: Dave Wilson

The finished wing, with the rearward half of the Balkenkreuz left untouched. Photo: Dave Wilson


The Balkenkreuz
After images of the wing were published on this blog in August, quite a few readers commented on the location, shape, and dimensions of the Balkenkreuz, which does not match official RLM regulations. The Museum staff noticed this irregularity from the beginning and had to make a decision: Do we restore our He 219 according to regulation, as a generic type, or exactly as we found it, historically correct to our particular aircraft? We opted for the latter. However, position and dimension of the lower Balkenkreuz on the He 219 wing have been the subject of spirited debate. We can only theorize that the unsymmetrical and non-standard size and placement of the markings can be attributed to a number of factors including hurried working conditions, unskilled forced labor, and possibly even a disregard for official regulations during manufacturing.

We also decided not to apply any paint to the rear half of the starboard upper Balkenkreuz so that it can be preserved in its original, 70-year-old condition. Its worn and faded original brushstrokes are clearly visible. For display purposes, the original Balkenkreuz will be covered with zero tack black vinyl. This will lend consistency to the appearance of the Balkenkreuz, yet allow easy access to the original paint for later research or analysis. It is believed the upper Balkenkreuz was factory sprayed, and then at some later date, at the unit level, re-touched using a brush. We can only speculate that this probably occurred at the time the undersurfaces were overpainted. The wing was transported to the Udvar-Hazy Center, and was on view during our recent Open House, but no date has been set for the final assembly of He 219. Before this can happen some major issues have to be resolved—among others, the installation of the He 219’s main landing gear and the reverse-engineering of the aircraft’s antennas, which were lost after the aircraft arrived in the U.S. Stay tuned for new updates!

European aviation curator Evelyn Crellin and Museum specialist Dave Wilson discuss paint finish and upper starboard wing Balkenkreuz on the He 219. Photo: Rick Kranias

Evelyn Crellin is the curator for European aviation at the National Air and Space Museum. Dave Wilson is a museum specialist in the Museum’s Preservation & Restoration Unit at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Rick Kranias is a research assistant to the He 219 Team.

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Remembering Milton W. Rosen

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Milton W. Rosen
Pioneering Rocket Engineer

Portrait of Milton W. Rosen. NASM-2B23356

Milton Rosen was a pioneer of American rocketry development. He helped put America in space as a leading figure in developing the Viking sounding rocket and the Vanguard satellite launch vehicle (both can be seen in the exhibition Space Race, Gallery 114, at the Museum in Washington, DC). In 1958, Vanguard I became the second American satellite of the Earth, and the fourth ever sent into space.

Educated as an electrical engineer at the University of Pennsylvania, Rosen joined the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C., in 1940. During World War II, he worked on missile guidance and control. Late in the war, the German V-2 ballistic missile demonstrated a revolutionary breakthrough in rocket technology. Rosen became an advocate for NRL exploring the upper atmosphere and near space with rockets. Supported by his boss, Ernst Krause, he went to the Army’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to get an apprenticeship in rocket development. He then led the Navy’s Viking project, which fired scientific payloads as high as 254 kilometers (158 miles) in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Milton Rosen, standing at far right in the back row, at a Project Orbiter meeting in March 1955. Sitting in the foreground is Wernher von Braun, a sometime-rival who Rosen would beat five months later in the competition for the first U.S. satellite project. NASM-2B12105

In 1955, Rosen proposed a satellite launcher based on an enlarged Viking. Surprisingly, he won a secret competition against an Army proposal headed by Wernher von Braun, who had once developed the V-2 for the Nazis. The Navy called its new project Vanguard, the first official U.S. satellite program, and Rosen became its technical director. After the Soviets launched Sputnik, von Braun’s project was revived, and it orbited the first American satellite, Explorer I. Vanguard suffered embarrassing launch failures,  notably the catastrophic accident of the TV-3 in December 1957—the tiny satellite payload was dumped onto scrub land next to the launchpad  (that object can also be seen in Space Race). But Rosen’s vehicle successfully inserted Vanguard I into orbit on March 17, 1958. It remains the oldest surviving manmade object in space. Project Vanguard later launched two more satellites.

 View of the Space Race exhibition at the Museum in Washington, DC. In this view from the second floor mezzanine, portions of the "Missile Pit," where Vanguard and Viking are on display can be seen.

View of the Space Race exhibition at the Museum in Washington, DC. In this view from the second floor mezzanine, the Vanguard and Viking are on display in the “Missile Pit.” The Viking is the short white rocket with cutaway windows in the front of the Pit, and the Vanguard launch vehicle is the pencil-thin, tall, black and silver rocket on the left.

In late 1958, Rosen transferred to the new NASA along with his NRL group. He went on to serve in senior administrative positions at the space agency and the National Academy of Sciences. He had a long, happy retirement and died at age 99 on December 30, 2014.

Michael Neufeld is a senior curator in the Space History Division at the National Air and Space Museum and the author of Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War



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Five Things I Learned While Curating Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity

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Outside the Spacecraft, located in gallery 211, will be on view through June 2015. See upcoming related events.

At the height of the summer of 2013, when I was getting ready to go on maternity leave to have my second child, I found myself as the only curator signed on to an anniversary exhibition celebrating the first spacewalks done in 1965. Now, this was unusual for a few reasons. First, I had to wait at least three to four months to start the project which left only about a year to get it done. Second, not only was I not alive when those spacewalks occurred, but I also was not alive for the last lunar extra-vehicular activity (EVA) in 1972. Feeling a bit under qualified and overcommitted, I went on to find out just what it took to make something notional only 18 months ago into a beautifully vibrant reality. Here are some of the lessons I learned and proudest moments from this experience.

1. Assemble a great team.
I knew this from the start, but assembling a good team was the first key to our success, and I could not have been more fortunate to get an outstanding set of colleagues together for this project. Each brought years of expertise, creative thinking, and a willingness to believe in a vision for something special. And when I was at my most frazzled, trying to spend time on the exhibit and finish my dissertation, they came through with moral support and helping hands to make sure everything worked out. Lisa, Richard, Vicki, Mychalene, Beatrice, Jeannie, Dave C., Alex, Linda, and all of the people who supported them proved what we all believe can come from hard work here at the Museum. Nobody has ever done an exhibit single-handedly at the Smithsonian, and despite the comments of some of my teammates, a curator is not a superhero. Every Superman has their Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. Every Han Solo has their Chewbacca and Luke Skywalker. The leader cannot succeed without amiable, honest, and talented supporters, making this exhibit as much theirs as it is mine.

2. Integrating the Museum’s digital engagement strategy into planning from day one allowed the website and physical exhibit to enrich each other almost seamlessly.
At the same time this exhibit project was in full swing during early 2014, the Museum was also preparing a digital engagement strategy, which I also happened to assist in writing. Having the overall Museum goals in mind, we kept looking for ways to insert those into our physical and virtual exhibits. Not all of our brainstorming resulted in actual products, but our real and virtual helix glove displays are prime examples of how we can develop displays and additional content for the in-person and online visitors. [photo of glove display and link]

Central to the exhibition is this display of astronaut gloves. Visitors onsite and off, can explore the gloves on this helix in more detail with our online (and mobile-friendly) interactive. Photo: Mark Avino

3. Not every idea is a good idea.
We had an idea for an online app along the way, which would have been one of the Museum’s first. It was meant to engage our younger audience, connecting them to our content in a fun way. It did not happen, but I am not heartbroken. It just was not the right fit for us at the time and we were wise to let it go and move on to better things.

4. NASA has many photographs online, and even more that are not.
I must have looked at thousands of photographs of astronauts on EVA before selecting the 20 or so seen in the exhibit, and I am sure that does not even scratch the surface of what astronauts captured over the last 50 years. To make this more mind numbing, an astronaut commented to me recently that he usually took around 10,000 photographs on each mission. And he flew six times. Wow.

5. There are hidden treasures around every corner here at the National Air and Space Museum.
Even after almost 13 years of working at this Museum, this workplace and its employees never cease to amaze me. We made some unexpected finds stored away at our facility in Suitland, MD, and were fortunate to receive a loan of recently discovered gems from the family of the first person to walk on the Moon. We also get to show, for the first time at the Museum, some beautifully engineered tools used to service the Hubble Space Telescope, deployed 25 years ago this April. The willingness of our staff to put in long hours and hard work to get our exhibit open on time was a humbling experience.

This is the oxygen purge system cover used by Gene Cernan on Apollo 17. The plastic bag encasing it was opened for the first time in decades for this exhibition.

This waist tether was used during Apollo 11 and is a promised gift of the Neil Armstrong family.

This exhibit was a treat to work on, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of accomplishments I was not alive to see, but still have a special meaning to me. Like Ed White and Jim McDivitt (the Gemini IV crew, and White performed the first U.S. spacewalk), I hail from the University of Michigan, and as a fellow Wolverine, I am so proud to commemorate their milestone mission with this exhibit. I am never shy about saying this, but I have the best job on the planet.

Jennifer Levasseur is a museum specialist in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum, and is responsible curator for the Museum’s collection of space cameras and early human spaceflight astronaut equipment. 


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Horten Ho 229 V3 “Bat-Wing Ship,” January 2015 Update

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Following months of preparation, members of the Collections Processing Unit moved the center section of the Horten Ho 229 V3* from the Paul E. Garber Restoration and Storage Facility to the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center last Friday.

View from the public overlook of the Horten center section on the floor of the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center Photo: Allan Janus

Work to conserve the center section has temporarily stopped while conservation staff shifts their attentions to other artifacts such as the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall in the Museum in Washington D. C. The Milestones gallery is undergoing a major renovation that is scheduled to be finished next year.

Horten being prepared for transit from the Paul E. Garber Facility to the Restoration Hangar. Photo: Mark Avino

Horten being prepared for transit from the Paul E. Garber Facility to the Restoration Hangar. Photo: Mark Avino

*Readers will note a change in the aircraft designation from H IX V3 in earlier blog posts to Ho 229 V3. After much thought and consultation with other curators and historians, I decided to change the nomenclature to more accurately reflect the official status of the aircraft during World War II. Reimar Horten privately used roman numerals to identify his various designs, hence H IX correctly identifies the all-wing jet project. After Hermann Göring approved building the V1 (prototype 1) glider prototype around August 1943, the project gained official status. The Reichs Luftfahrtministerium (German Air Ministry) used a numbering system to abbreviate the names of all aircraft manufacturers. Horten received the number ‘229,’ hence the RLM designated the glider prototype Ho 229 V1. The ministry designated prototype 2, which flew twice before crashing, the Ho 229 V2, and they assigned the designation Ho 229 V3 to the Museum’s artifact. Although variations in this terminology can be found in official documents from the period, I believe that Ho 229 V3 works best.

Russ Lee is a curator in the Aeronautics Department at the National Air and Space Museum.

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