After hurtling through the atmosphere at 25,000 miles per hour atop the most powerful rocket ever created, the Apollo 11 command module “Columbia” will come to Pittsburgh as part of a rare and momentous traveling exhibition of artifacts from humanity’s first landing on the Moon.

Columbia was for eight days in 1969 the living quarters for Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. and Michael Collins as they journeyed safely to and from our nearest and constant celestial companion. It will visit Pittsburgh Sept. 29, 2018 through Feb. 18, 2019 at the Senator John Heinz History Center.

The History Center is one of just four sites nationwideand the only site east of the Mississippi Riverthat will host Columbia and other Apollo 11 artifacts as part of Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission, a 23-month national tour preceding the command module’s installation as the centerpiece of a permanent exhibition of the same name at the National Air and Space Museum scheduled to open in 2020.

“It is fitting that the ‘Smithsonian’s home in Pittsburgh’ will host this exhibition, since innovations from Pittsburgh companies such as Westinghouse, Alcoa, North American Rockwell, Union Switch & Signal, and others played an important role in putting a man on the moon,” said Andy Masich, president and CEO of the History Center, in a press release.

Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon. Photo courtesy NASA.

The Columbia is the only section of the Apollo 11 spacecraft to make it back from the 953,054-mile voyage to and from the Moon. The service module, which housed the command module’s critical life support systems, was jettisoned prior to Earth re-entry while the two-stage lunar module remains on the Moon.

Launched July 16, 1969 atop the 363-foot tall Saturn V rocket, the Columbia orbited the Moon while Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on lunar soil before safely bringing them and  Command Module Pilot Collins back to Earth.

While the Columbia is the crown jewel of the traveling exhibition, it will be accompanied by other artifacts from Apollo 11 including Aldrin’s helmet, Collins’ watch, the crew’s star chart and more. The capsule hasn’t left the Air and Space Museum since it was taken on a celebratory, nationwide tour in 1970 and 1971.

Columbia derived its name from “Columbiad,” the name of the enormous, spacecraft-firing gun from Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, a time when the thought of a trip to the moon was confined to science fiction. Next year, Pittsburgh can pay homage to the vessel inside which humanity conducted its greatest, most ambitious journey, one that forever redefined what was thought to be possible.

The complete “Destination Moon” touring exhibition schedule is as follows:

Space Center Houston: Oct. 14, 2017–March 18, 2018

St. Louis Science Center: April 14–Sept. 3, 2018

Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh: Sept. 29, 2018–Feb. 18, 2019

The Museum of Flight, Seattle: March 16–Sept. 2, 2019

Brian Conway

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.