A crew at the Smithsonian uncovered some celestial Apollo 11 messages scrawled inside of the Columbia command module on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. But the literal writings on the wall in this case are not exactly of iconic-level prominence. In fact, the unexpected inscriptions written by astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins include a stinky olfactory warning.
Explains Yahoo News on Feb. 12: “Apollo 11, the first moon landing mission in July 1969, produced a number of iconic quotes, such as, ‘The Eagle has landed,’ and ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ Now, thanks to a surprising discovery by the Smithsonian, history can possibly add ‘Smelly Waste!’ to that list.”
For four decades, the command module, dubbed a “Milestone of Flight” by the institute, has been on display to the public. The three-man craft was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1970 following a NASA-sponsored tour of American cities. However, it’s been hands-off; the module was enclosed in a plexiglass skin to prevent decay. But researchers finally had access last year.
Explains Space.com: “As a part of a still on-going renovation of the museum’s main gallery, the decision was made to move Columbia to a new exhibit hall, ‘Destination Moon,’ opening in the 2020 timeframe. In preparation for its eventual new display, the capsule was removed from its angled stand and its plastic skirt was removed.”
Researchers from Smithsonian’s Digitization Program performed a 3D image scan of Columbia in order to create a digital model that will be part of the new display and also available online as part of an interactive exhibit. When they scanned the lower equipment bay, the area located under the astronauts’ seats, they were stunned to find some hidden messages.
“No one from the Smithsonian, as far I knew — not as long as I’ve been the curator for 20 years, has ever been below there to document the conditions or any of the aspects of the lower equipment bay,” said Allan Needell, a curator in the space history division at the museum. “We’ve been able to sort of see above the seats, but that’s about all.”
Researchers said they think astronaut Michael Collins penned most of the messages. However, when they reached out to the 85-year-old astronaut, he said he did not recollect writing them. Collins stayed in orbit around the moon, while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin used the Lunar Module to make the first manned landing on its surface.
Another note also had to do with waste: “Launch Day Urine Bags.” However, no bags were included in the crew’s pre-launch checklist.
“There is a device for venting into space excess water, the urine dump,” explained Needell. “But clearly you can’t use that pre-launch. So probably, and this is just speculation, that if they actually had to use a urine bag during the pre-launch period, this was where they needed to put it.”
Along with a series of numbers and math calculations, the Smithsonian crew found a calendar, with dates checked off.
“We are still trying to figure out on this calendar when and who would have drawn it,” Needell described. “Why would someone have put this checkbox and checked off day by day on the wall? Every box, from July 16th through the 23rd is checked. The 24th is written in numerically, but is not checked.”
The Apollo 11 left Earth on July 16 and landed on the moon on July 20; they returned to Earth and landed in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.
“We are speculating that it was Mike, when he was alone [in lunar orbit],” Needell said. “You think about the human instinct to do that kind of thing, like somebody in a prison cell or prisoner in a war camp. Mike was this ‘loneliest man in the world’ on the far side of the moon, and so maybe he decided to do it.”