Apollo 11 command module Columbia on temporary cradle.
(Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

The Smithsonian’s prized Apollo 11 command module will leave the National Air and Space Museum for the first time in 46 years when it becomes the star attraction of a two-year, four-city touring exhibition, “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission.”

The module Columbia – the only piece of the spacecraft to complete the first mission to land a man on the moon and return him to Earth – will be the centerpiece of the exhibition that will open Oct. 14 in Houston before moving to St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Seattle.

The artifacts will be on the road for the first part of a planned, multi-year renovation of the Air and Space Museum and for the 50th anniversary of the historic mission.

[Air and Space Museum’s makeover estimated at $1 billion]

“It did things that up until then were hardly imaginable, and it stoked tremendous excitement about the possibilities of technology in the future,” Smithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton said about the Apollo 11 mission. The traveling exhibition will allow the museum “to reach out to the much greater number of people in their hometowns, in their communities, so they can share the magic of the Smithsonian.”

More than 20 objects associated with the mission and its crew members Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin will be part of the exhibition, according to Senior Curator Michael J. Neufeld. They include Aldrin’s extravehicular gloves,, a medical kit, a “rock box” used to bring back the first samples of the moon and Collins’s chronograph.

The Columbia had been on view at the Air and Space Museum on the National Mall from its opening in 1976 until last December, when it was moved to the conservation lab at the museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport. It will be studied, conserved and stabilized for nine months before the national tour begins at the Space Center Houston.

The exhibition will then travel to the Saint Louis Science Center from April 14-Sept. 3 2018 and to the Senator John Heinz History Center from Sept. 29, 2018-Feb. 18, 2019. It will be at the Museum of Flight in Seattle from March to Sept. 2, 2019, where it will celebrate the mission’s 50th anniversary.

Before it entered the museum’s collection, the Columbia command module toured all 50 states in 1970 and 1971, covering more than 26,000 miles. It then went on view in the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building before the current Air and Space Museum opened.  Its tour coincides with the planned start of a major renovation of the building on the Mall.

Museum officials have engineered a special traveling crate for this four-city tour. The module and its exhibition case weigh more than 13,000 pounds.

The museum will host an “Apollo on the Move” celebration at Udvar-Hazy on March 4 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Visitors will be allowed inside the restoration hangar to meet staff and view the other conservation projects. Special movie screenings and family-friendly programs will highlight the event.