Neil Armstrong had a secret stash of moon landing mementos.
The first man to walk on the moon kept a bag full of small parts from the Eagle lunar module that he and Apollo 11 crewmate Buzz Aldrin famously piloted to a landing at Tranquility Base on July 20, 1969. The stowage bag was discovered by Armstrong's widow after he died in 2012.
"I received an email from Carol Armstrong that she had located in one of Neil's closets a white cloth bag filled with assorted small items that looked like they may have come from a spacecraft," Allan Needell, the Apollo curator at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, wrote in a blog entry published Friday. "Needless to say, for a curator of a collection of space artifacts, it is hard to imagine anything more exciting."
The bag was referred to as the "McDivitt purse," after the Apollo 9 astronaut whose idea it was to include aboard the spacecraft.
Its contents, identified by Needell and the team behind the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, included Armstrong's waist tether, utility lights and their brackets, equipment netting, an emergency wrench, the optical sight that was mounted above Armstrong's window and the 16mm data acquisition camera, or DAC,that recorded the iconic footage of the lander's final approach and Armstrong's descent down the ladder to take his "small step" onto the moon.
"The 16mm DAC, given the images that it captured, ranks as enormously important," Needell told CollectSpace.com. He noted that all of the items have added significance, given their connection to Armstrong.
For whatever reason, Neil Armstrong apparently kept the bag a secret for more than four decades. Even when questioned about mementos by his authorized biographer, Armstrong made no mention of the historic artifacts that were tucked away in his closet.
The bag was not something Armstrong sneaked home from the moon. After returning to lunar orbit, the bag and its contents were moved from Eagle to the Columbia command module before the lander was directed to crash back to the surface. Had the purse remained aboard, it too would have been destroyed.
Armstrong mentioned the purse to command module pilot Michael Collins as it was being transferred from one craft to the other.
"That [is] just a bunch of trash that we want to take back — LM parts, odds and ends," Armstrong said.
Later, Collins called Mission Control to note where the bag was being placed for the trip home and about how much it weighed.
It is not known how the purse came to be in Armstrong's possession after the mission, but it wasn't unusual for the astronauts to retain small spent parts of their capsules as souvenirs.