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.