Assistant Curator Sarah Reeves on the interactive exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Moon landing.
Combining key pieces of space technology, images and film from the NASA archives, Apollo 11 at the Powerhouse Museum explores one of the defining moments of the 20th century. The interactive exhibition, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing this year, takes visitors on the race to the Moon and allows them to experience the historic mission in new and exciting ways.
Beginning with the growing political tensions in the aftermath of World War II, the exhibition examines the political figures and agendas that drove the Space Race, and the rapid developments in rocketry and computing technology it made possible. It features hardware from the precursor Mercury missions, responsible for putting the first Americans in space and then into orbit, on display at the Powerhouse Museum for the first time. Other highlights include a full-sized replica of the Apollo 11 space suit, purchased especially for the exhibition, and the visitor-favourite moon rock sample, which is being temporarily relocated from the Space exhibition for the anniversary display.
For this exhibition, the Museum has partnered with the iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema Research, at the University of New South Wales, to create a new interactive virtual-reality experience that uses data from the Smithsonian Institute’s 3D mapping project. Visitors can step inside the Colombia Command Module and experience first-hand what the astronauts saw, or ponder what Command Module Pilot Michael Collins was thinking as he sat alone in orbit while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the lunar surface.
Also revealed is the critical — but, to many, unknown — role that Australia played in the mission. Radio dishes around the country formed part of NASA’s global network of tracking stations, receiving crucial data and voice transmissions throughout the eight-day mission. Most importantly, this included receiving the grainy images of the astronauts’ first steps on the Moon and their moonwalk. More than half a billion people watched the broadcast, making it the largest-ever live audience of the time.
But the mission wasn’t all about the science and technology; the era is synonymous with Space Age design. The exhibition features classics from the Globe chair to go-go boots — objects that took their form from rocket ships, flying saucers and space suits. A mass-display of commemorative envelopes, postcards and other souvenirs is a reminder of how the public sought to feel a part of the mission and to remember where they were when it all happened. Beyond that, displays show examples of technology spin-offs from our everyday lives, demonstrating the lasting impact of the Apollo and later NASA missions.
Fifty years on, we are seeing a renewed interest in space exploration. The advent of private space enterprise and the development of new technologies is changing how we explore space. Far from the Space Race days, dozens of countries around the world now have their own space agencies. Universities, private organisations and individuals can launch their own space missions. With the focus now firmly on Mars, and with the possibility of creating a human colony on the red planet in coming decades, the exhibition speculates about how Australia might participate in space exploration in the future — to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
Coinciding with the exhibition is the display of Museum of the Moon, created by British artist Luke Jerram. The Museum has commissioned a southern hemisphere version of this seven-metre artwork, which features detailed NASA imagery of the Lunar surface. At an approximate scale of 1:500,000, each centimetre of sculpture represents five kilometres of the Moon’s surface. The installation features a surround-sound composition created by BAFTA award-winner Dan Jones. Set against the awe-inspiring achievements of the pioneering early space missions, Museum of the Moon offers a much-needed moment of wonder and reflection.
Apollo 11 is supported by Principal Partner CSIRO and is located on level 2 at the Powerhouse Museum.