Columbia Han­dle, Apollo 11

Air & Space Smithsonian - - I Was There -

t The com­mand mod­ule , car­ry­ing the first men to walk on the

Columbia moon, splashed down on July 24, 1969. Af­ter a brief tour of U.S. cities,

Columbia found its for­ever home at the Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum.

But not all of the dis­play mod­ule ac­tu­ally flew in space. The han­dles on the out­side were re­moved in 1970 be­cause they were made with lit­tle discs of ra­dioac­tive prome­thium-147, en­abling them to glow in case of emer­gency. This would be a lit­tle au­then­tic for the safety of mu­seum vis­i­tors, so

too the han­dles were re­placed. Charles Barnes, a ra­di­o­logic health of­fi­cer at NASA’S Kennedy Space Cen­ter in Florida, of­fered to study the ef­fects of the ra­dioac­tive ma­te­rial over 10 years for free—if he could keep the han­dle af­ter­ward. When he put it up for auc­tion in 2000, NASA and the Mu­seum were sur­prised, but al­lowed the trans­ac­tion to go through.

Steve Jurvet­son says this is the only piece of the Apollo 11 com­mand mod­ule out­side the Smith­so­nian. When he tests it in the dark­ness of his of­fice bath­room, it still glows.

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