None of the activities to prepare and carry out the Apollo 11 mission to the moon may have happened in Georgia, but that doesn’t mean the state doesn’t have a key tie to that history-making trip.
The Morrow-based National Archives at Atlanta is home to records that were produced by several federal agencies in the Southeast over the years. That creates a significant Georgia connection to the NASA mission that put the first two men on the moon.
The vast records collection includes documents and photos produced at two facilities that played key roles in the Apollo 11 mission: The Kennedy Space Center’s launch facilities at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
“(People) definitely don’t associate NASA with out facility, but the launch facility, those records come here, and then the Marshall (facility), where all of the major booster development occurred, is all here,” said Shane Bell, an archivist at the National Archives at Atlanta whose duties include handling the NASA records.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission with Saturday being the anniversary of the day Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed and walked on the moon.
That anniversary has put the records held at the National Archives at Atlanta in the spotlight as researchers and historians have made the trek to Morrow to see what the archives has.
“There’s been an uptick in NASA research,” Bell said of the lunar landing’s 50th anniversary impact on request for records access. “There are a lot folks who were working on books. Of course, they did their work months and even years ahead of time, but in the last few years, there’s been an uptick.”
In all, Bell estimated there are about 7,000 cubic feet of NASA records generated in the southeast that are held at the National Archives at Atlanta.
In addition to records from the construction of the rocket that took Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins to space on that mission, as well as records from their final preparations, flight suit fittings and launch of the flight, there are some other Apollo 11 records held in Georgia.
Some duplicate photo negatives for images taken on the moon — copies which were made at the time the film was developed — have also made their way into the National Archives at Atlanta’s holdings.
“We have a series of what they essentially call ‘Miscellaneous photos’ that they just dumped a bunch of stuff into (and) it just so happens there was a big run of Apollo 11 stuff,” Bell said. “These are photos that you’ve seen before. You’ve certainly seen the image of Buzz on the moon before, but some of these are not as well known.
“Some of them are of the lunar lander and of them carrying their stuff (on the moon).”
The NASA records go beyond Apollo 11 as well. The archives has records from the Mercury and Gemini missions, SkyLab and space shuttle flights, as well.
Several of those records are paper documents, but there are a lot of photographs.
“NASA was great about taking photographs of what they were doing,” Bell said. “They took thousands of photos.”
Not all records related to Apollo 11 are held in Morrow though. Due to the regional nature of the National Archives system, records from the mission control center in Houston are held at a branch in Fort Worth, Texas. Due to the historic nature of the Apollo 11 mission, some records are held in Washington, D.C., as well.
But occasionally, federal agencies come calling on the National Archives at Atlanta for some historical information.
Due to newer missions set for NASA, including a return mission to the moon and trips to Mars, Bell said the nation’s space agency has come to the archives to review records in its collection as reference for the new missions.
“That’s happened several times,” Bell said. “There are engine test reports that I’ve sent back to Huntsville because the mechanics of getting there are still the same.
“They are going to update some of the technology, but what they have to overcome is exactly the same things they had to overcome in the ’60s.”