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Treasure trove of Apollo 11 souvenirs discovered in Neil Armstrong's home

The kit-bag and equipment used in the 1969 moon landings have been documented and photographed by the Smithsonian

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A never-before-seen 16mm Data Acquisition Camera used on the Apollo 11 missions.
A never-before-seen 16mm Data Acquisition Camera used on the Apollo 11 missions.
Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

A bag full of equipment used during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission has been discovered more than 45 years after the items were first flown back from the Moon. The white cloth holdall — known as a McDivitt Purse to the Apollo astronauts — was originally scheduled to be left behind in the Eagle lander, but was taken home by the first man to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong. Mission transcripts show Armstrong referring to the bag as "a bunch of trash that we want to take back" (this sort of impromptu souvenir taking was common among astronauts), while museum curators have described the artifacts as having "priceless historical value."

"Priceless Historical Value."

The bag was apparently left undisturbed in one of Armstrong’s closets for decades until his widow, Carol Armstrong, discovered it and brought it to the attention of Allan Needell, a curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. "Needless to say, for a curator of a collection of space artifacts, it is hard to imagine anything more exciting," writes Needell in a blog post for the Smithsonian. "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."

Needell and his team were first told about the bag some weeks after Armstrong's death in August 2012, and have spent the years since documenting its contents; poring over mission transcripts and photographs to confirm how and when the items were used. Of the various odds and ends within the bag — including a mirror, an emergency wrench, netting, brackets, and a power cable — Needell says the two most exciting items are a 16mm camera used to record the astronauts on the Moon and a waist tether designed to be used in case of an emergency spacewalk. The camera was mounted in the window of the Eagle for the mission's duration, while the waist tether was used by Armstrong to fashion a makeshift hammock during the astronauts' seven-hour rest period before takeoff from the Moon's surface.

These objects help us understand the Moon landings as real missions performed by real people

It's hard to say exactly what makes objects like this so exciting (beyond the obvious fact that they went to the Moon and back), but it's perhaps something to do with their sheer ordinariness. Looking through the detailed, forensic photographs of the items taken by the Smithsonian's curators you can see evidence of wear and tear; scratches and flecks of paint that prove that these items aren't just mystical artifacts but pieces of real equipment that did small, necessary jobs to help land humanity on the Moon. As Needell himself says, the find "helps us to appreciate that these accomplishments are not just books or movies but involve real people and real things."

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