Apollo: The Museum of Flight’s New Exhibit Lifts Off

The Eagle has landed at the Museum of Flight with Apollo, an exciting new exhibit about the 1960s Space Race. Its centerpiece—the first public display of the F-1 rocket engines that blasted astronauts to the moon; recovered by Seattle-based Bezos Expeditions, after 43 years at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. If you’re ready to learn more, grab your crew of space junkies and get ready for a lunar landing at the Museum of Flight.

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Race to Space
It’s amazing to think that just 66 years after the Wright Brothers flew the first powered airplane, astronaut Neil Armstrong took the first footsteps on the moon. In the 1960s the USA and USSR were rushing to be first—first in space, first to orbit Earth, first to set foot on the moon. Apollo tells you all about the Space Race, and stories of the people behind it.

That’s One Small Step …
In 1969, five year-old Jeff Bezos was captivated by the television broadcast of the lunar landing. Over 40 years later, the Seattle entrepreneur set out to find the long-lost Rocketdyne F-1 engines that had boosted the Apollo missions out of Earth’s atmosphere. These were the most powerful engines ever built, packing 18 million horsepower!

There were five F-1 engines attached to each Saturn V rocket. As part of the first stage, they were designed to separate at 40 miles up leaving other stages of the rocket to go on to the moon. The engines then plunged to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean; sinking deeper then the Titanic.

The Search
The search for the F-1 engines was almost as technologically amazing as spaceflight itself! It required a team of archeologists and sonar specialists plus remote submersibles—the cutting edge of deep ocean exploration. In a search, literally of Titanic proportions, Bezos Expeditions   found and recovered the F-1 engines. Jeff Bezos suggested NASA give one of the recovered engines to the Smithsonian, but he also wanted to be sure one went to his hometown air and space museum—The Museum of Flight.

photo: Museum of Flight

Engines Tell a Story
The charred and mangled engines on display are from the Apollo 12 and Apollo 16 missions. Apollo 12 launched on November 14, 1969, while Apollo 16 launched on April 16, 1972. Leader of the recovery expedition David Concannon, who also recovered artifacts from the Titanic, says he hopes that when parents bring their kids to see the Apollo exhibit, “The story that these beat up, burnt up artifacts tell is that you can pull together and we can do something more than ourselves and achieve something significant that will tell a story for generations to come.”

Before and After
For comparison, the recovered engines are on display next to one that has never flown. Standing 18 feet tall and weighing nine tons, it was originally supposed to fly on Apollo 16 but was kept as a spare instead. It gives you a chance to see what the F-1 engine looked like before launch, and what it looks like after rocketing 40 miles up into the air, splashing down to the bottom of the ocean, and remaining there in saltwater for more than 40 years.

Apollo 12 Commander
Apollo includes an awesome collection of artifacts from Apollo 12 Commander Pete Conrad (the third human to walk on the moon). You’ll see his leather flight jacket, Apollo 12 log book, and even a baseball cap (with propellers on it) that he wore while in quarantine after coming back down to Earth.

Conrad was the joker of the Apollo astronauts, his first words when walking on the moon were a knock on his own height, “Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.”

The Apollo exhibit also features lots of unique stuff from the Space Race including the Boeing Lunar Rover (or you can call it a “moon buggy”), and the first Apollo command module. Think you could land the lunar module? You and your little astronauts can give it a try!

Time Traveling
If you weren’t there to see the lunar landing on TV, don’t worry, you can watch it here! Think you could be a human “computer”? Take a look at the kind of math calculations Katherine Johnson (featured in the movie Hidden Figures) had to do to land the Apollo missions on the moon.

Other fascinating artifacts in the Apollo exhibit include a rare early Soviet space suit, a large control panel and work stations from the 1960s NASA Mission Control, and even a moon rock!

The F-1 engines didn’t just launch the Apollo missions. They, and the Saturn V rockets, were also used to launch Skylab, a science lab in space, and forerunner to the International Space Station. Skylab orbited Earth from 1973 to 1979, and you’ll see a lot of artifacts from it in the Apollo exhibit. Psst… Pete Conrad took this mix-tape (pictured below) up in Skylab for some space tunes. Looks like he was a country fan!

The Wright Brothers on the Moon
In 1969, Neil Armstrong was given something special to take to the moon – a piece of material from the original Wright Flyer that bore Orville Wright aloft for the first time on December 7, 1903. Now Neil’s son Mark is sharing that fabric with the Museum of Flight. It’s a special artifact that ties together the history of flight, from the Wright’s first flight, to the Apollo missions, and on to today.

The Red Planet
But just when you thought you’d seen it all, there’s a cool bonus in the Apollo exhibit—the only Viking Mars Lander on Earth!

The Future
Educators at The Museum of Flight want to show kids that any problem can be solved through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). “We want all learners to see themselves in a STEM future. From the far reaches of space to the depths of the ocean there’s no limit to what they can achieve.”

But Wait. There’s More!
After taking in Apollo, head over to the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery to learn the story of the space shuttle and check out the NASA Space Shuttle Trainer (used by every shuttle astronaut to prepare them for space). The new Apollo exhibit, along with the fantastic space shuttle training exhibit, makes The Museum of Flight your young astronaut’s destination for all things interstellar!

The Museum of Flight
9404 E. Marginal Way S.
Seattle, Wa 98108
Online: museumofflight.org
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Cost: $21/Adults; $18/Seniors (65 & older); $13/Youth (5-17); 4 & under Free. Free on the First Thursdays from 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Various membership levels available starting at $75.

Are you looking forward to visiting the Apollo exhibit? Have you already been? Tell us about your experience in the Comments below!

— Helen Walker Green (all photos courtesy of the writer, unless noted)


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