This year, one of the most important artifacts of the Space Age, the Columbia command module of the Apollo 11 mission, will leave its home at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum for the first time in almost 50 years. The historic spacecraft will be the centerpiece of an exhibition traveling to top museums across the US that will tell the story of the Space Race and the conquest of the Moon.

Launching on July 16, 1969, Columbia took Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin to the Moon, where Aldrin and Armstrong became the first men in history to set foot on our nearest neighbor. Out of the entire skyscraper-sized Saturn V spacecraft that propelled the explorers into space, only the command module, which returned the astronauts to Earth, remains intact. All the other components were either destroyed after lift off, left or crashed on the Moon, or burned up in the Earth's atmosphere.

During the mission, the command module acted as command center, crew quarters, and re-entry vehicle. Now, it's a monument to one of the greatest events since events started being recorded. In 1970 and '71, Columbia toured all 50 states and visited 49 state capitals, drawing huge crowds that waited hours to pass through the trailer. It then returned to the Smithsonian and its National Air and Space Museum, where it has remained on display for 46 years.

The upcoming two-year cross-country tour, called "Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission," will include not only Columbia, but over 20 items that will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing and tell the story of the people behind the eight-year effort dedicated to, in the words of President John F Kennedy in 1961, "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

Unlike the original tour, where the public could only see the outside the capsule and, if they were tall enough (as I found out as a boy) a glimpse of the inside through the hatch, Destination Moon will include an interactive 3D tour of Columbia from high-resolution scans made of the interior in 2016.

The Smithsonian says that the two-year traveling exhibition will act as a preview of a new gallery at the National Air and Space Museum that is scheduled to open in 2021 and will cover the history of human fascination with the Moon, from ancient beliefs, through the Apollo program, to the missions of today.

The Destination Moon exhibition will visit the Space Center Houston from October 14, 2017 to March 18, 2018; the Saint Louis Science Center from April 14 to September 3, 2018; the Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh from September 29, 2018 to February 18, 2019; and the Museum of Flight, Seattle from March 16 to Sept. 2, 2019.

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