Neil Armstrong’s ‘bunch of trash’ is space history treasure

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A bag of forgotten moon mission artifacts was found in a closet in Neil Armstrong's home. Carol Armstrong photo: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
A bag of forgotten moon mission artifacts was found in a closet in Neil Armstrong's home. Carol Armstrong photo: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Neil Armstrong had just been the first man to walk on the moon but now had to put out the trash.

It was a critical step home. Precise weight had to be calculated for re-entry and to make way for moon rocks, miscellaneous space travel items had to be discarded in the lunar module.

Just before sending the Eagle crashing into the surface of the moon, Mission Control records Armstrong’s voice saying nothing historic, certainly not as memorable as “One Small Step for Man…”

“You know, that – that one’s just a bunch of trash that we want to take back . . . We’ll have to figure something out for it.”

This audio proved to be an important piece of provenance when the wife of the late astronaut discovered a white bag in a home closet.

In it were a waist tether, a helmet tie down strap, a utility light and some utility clamps. The jewel of what is being referred to as the Armstrong purse is a 16 mm movie camera that had been mounted in the window of the Eagle to record those first footsteps on the lunar surface.

This 16 mm movie camera recorded the first foot steps on the moon from astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Photo: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
This 16 mm movie camera recorded the first foot steps on the moon from astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Photo: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
The camera was mounted in the window of the lunar module to record the first moon walk. Photo: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
The camera was mounted in the window of the lunar module to record the first moon walk. Photo: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Some of the items are currently on display at the National Air and Space Museum in a special exhibit called Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity.

“Needless to say, for a curator of a collection of space artifacts, it is hard to imagine anything more exciting,” Allan Needell, curator of the Space History Department wrote in a Feb. 6 Air Space Blog entry.

Outside of the recordings about the purse and “bunch of trash,” Armstrong, who died in 2012, never made mention of the bag again. It was a surprise find for his widow, Carol, who contacted the Air and Space Museum after she found it in a closet of their Ohio home.

She sent a photograph of the bag and its contents, and the museum was able to verify the items had indeed flown with Apollo 11 in 1969 after examination by a team of experts with the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.

Neil Armstrong, who died in 2012 and was the first man to walk on the moon, left behind a bag of artifacts from that mission. Photo: NASA
Neil Armstrong, who died in 2012 and was the first man to walk on the moon, left behind a bag of artifacts from that mission. Photo: NASA