Smithsonian Staff Sift Through Neil Armstrong's 'Purse'

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It's been more than 45 years since the first lunar landing, yet the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., has some new artifacts from that mission.

They were found in a closet by Neil Armstrong's widow, and museum curator Allan Needell calls it an exciting discovery. He speaks with Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd.

Interview Highlights

On what's in the bag

"They are what Neil Armstrong called ‘odds and ends’ from the Lunar Module Eagle that he decided to put in this bag - something that they put on board so that they could keep things from falling on the floor, and out of the way. So, just as they were about to crawl from the lunar module into the command module to go home, they handed over all of the rocks and all of the film cartridges and all of the precious cargo that the scientists and engineers wanted and then there’s a little bit of margins for error in the weight requirements and they decided to put some stuff in this bag and put it in a locker on the command module and bring it home."

"As far as I know, nobody else knew about it."

On why we never knew about the bag

"She [his wife] didn’t know about it. In fact, as far as I know, nobody else knew about it… Going through one of his closets she saw this bag and she opened it and saw spacecraft-looking stuff in it and wanted to know if this might be of interest to us."

On what the contents tell us about Apollo 11

"There’s always been this story that Neil has told in post flight briefings, and in some of the transcripts, of them having to rest for a sleep period while they were on the moon and how uncomfortable it was. There are no seats or cots in the lunar module. He basically had to lie down on an equipment cover, fairly uncomfortable, didn’t get much sleep. And he tells this story how he used a tether, that was designed for possible emergency space walk, to sort of form a little, what he called a hammock. And we never quite understood what that meant. We now can reconstruct what that was because he decided to save that tether and put it in the bag.

"So basically he created a loop, where he could stick his feet up in the air and rest them in the loop. And at .16 G, supporting your feet up in the air sort of took a lot of pressure off the part that was lying on the equipment cover and made it a bit more comfortable."


  • Allan Needell, a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. He tweets @NeedellAllan.

This segment aired on February 10, 2015.


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