Unassuming bag found in Neil Armstrong's closet yields priceless Apollo 11 artifacts
With the death of Neil Armstrong back in August 2012, humanity lost one of its greatest heroes. Whilst his first steps on the Moon were driven by the United States out of competition with its terrestrial rival, the USSR, the words that accompanied his actions spoke of an achievement for all mankind. Upon his death, the Armstrong family donated many of the mementos that Neil had kept to Purdue University, Indiana (his alma mater) and to the National Air and Space Museum, Virginia. However, a bag full of Apollo 11 relics that traveled aboard the Eagle Lunar Module (LM) were unexpectedly discovered months later in an unassuming bag in his closet.
Transcripts from the historic mission confirm that the parts and the bag itself did indeed fly aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft. In the hours following their ascent from the moon's surface, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins transferred samples of moon rocks and other materials from the LM to the command module, being sure to notify mission control of each item as they did so.
This was a vital process, as mission operators on the ground had to know the exact weight of the command module including any extras from the LM in order to calculate the burns required to achieve a safe re-entry trajectory. During this process, the astronauts described using a bag to contain "just a bunch of trash that we want to take back – LM parts, odds and ends, and it won't stay closed by itself. We'll have to figure something out."
That something turned out to be the bag that was discovered in Neil Armstrong's closet months after his death. Known as a Temporary Stowage Bag (TSB), or more informally as a McDivitt Purse after Apollo 9 Commander James McDivett, the clasped container had been salvaged from the Eagle to serve as a holder for mementos for the crew of Apollo 11. Thus saving it from the fate consigned to the LM – being left on the surface of the Moon.
Image showing Buzz Aldrin holding the McDivitt Purse during a LM inspection 55 hours and 41 minutes into the mission (Photo: NASA)
Aside from the bag itself, the haul turned up an array of spacecraft components, most notably the 16-mm Data Acquisition Camera that, when positioned at the window of the LM, was used to capture footage of Neil's first steps on the Moon.
Take a look through the image gallery for a description of each of the items that traveled aboard the Eagle Lunar Module. At the time each item served a simple, utilitarian function, but thanks to the actions of three astronauts in space, and an army of men and women back on Earth, each are now precious artifacts that remind us of one of humanity's greatest achievements.