More than 45 years after Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, his personal bag of souvenirs from the first lunar landing have moved from the secrecy of his closet to the national spotlight.
Armstrong’s widow, Carol, found the white cloth bag – astronauts called it “the purse” – filled with space hardware while cleaning out their suburban Cincinnati home after he died in August 2012 at age 82. He apparently never told anyone on Earth about his mementos.
Turns out the 20 items are among the few artefacts from the Apollo 11 lunar lander that made the trip from Tranquillity Base back to Earth.
Among them: the 16mm movie camera that recorded the Eagle’s final descent and Armstrong’s “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” on July 20, 1969. It also captured Armstrong and his moon mate, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, planting the American flag.
Other items include utility lights and cables; a mirror; a helmet tie-down and a waist tether; an emergency wrench; a “waste-management cover”; and netting
After he and Aldrin docked with the orbiting capsule, Armstrong told commander Michael Collins the temporary stowage bag contained “parts, odds and ends” from the lunar module – “just a bunch of trash that we want to take back.” The module was then jettisoned, eventually crashing on the moon.
In communications with mission control in Houston, Armstrong referred to the items as “miscellaneous weight” and “miscellaneous equipment” weighing about 10 pounds.
Carol Armstrong contacted the National Air and Space Museum about her find in June 2013. The museum researched and documented the equipment. The camera is being displayed in a temporary exhibit, with plans to show all items eventually.
“Needless to say, for a curator of a collection of space artefacts, it is hard to imagine anything more exciting,” writes the museum’s Allan Needell.