A Special Thank You

We have been offered quite a few artifacts over the past years. From spare parts for a Saturn V Moon rocket to a cigar butt smoked by a former flight director, it is always interesting to see what shows up at our front door. While each item carries with it an interesting piece of history, it doesn’t always meet the criteria for our permanent collection. However, there are those rare and amazing pieces you just can’t pass up.

The damaged command module of Apollo 13

Moments after the explosion on Apollo 13, any hope of landing on the Moon was abandoned. Despite the disaster, history would ultimately label Apollo 13 as NASA’s most “successful failure”. Space Center Houston is now honored to host a rare artifact from one of NASA’s finest hours. An artifact that would today be forgotten on the surface on the Moon if things had gone as planned.

(above:)This checklist would have been the guidebook for the Apollo 13 crew while on the Lunar surface.

On a perfect mission, Jim Lovell would have picked up this artifact shortly after landing. It is a collection of pages held together with three metal rings. Although it is marked as the “final copy,” various pages are marked in longhand with last minute notes and reminders. The Apollo 13 Lunar Surface Checklist would have served as the crews guide during the exploration of the lunar surface. Although it conjures up memories of a nearly disastrous mission, it also gives some unique insight to the mission planning and how an alternate reality might have played out.

One of the greatest joys of working with artifacts is meeting the people with whom they are associated.

Scott Millican is the author of the Lunar Surface Checklist and the donor of this rare piece of history. He worked in the crew procedures division during Projects Gemini, Apollo, Apollo/Soyuz, and Skylab –America’s first space station. He was working in mission control on the day that an electrical arc sparked an oxygen tank explosion thus crippling Apollo 13. As problems were resolved, it became evident that Scott’s intimate knowledge of the lunar lander Aquarius played a vital role of the timely assembly of a carbon dioxide filter to purify the air in the spacecraft.

After the crew’s safe return, the crew arranged a special thank you for his important role in returning them safely. On the cover of the checklist the crew inscribed this message:

“To Scott-

This document flew to the Moon on Aquarius 11 – 17 April 1970. Thanks from the Apollo 13 crew.

James Love Jack Swigert Fred Haise”

The Crew of Apollo 13

The Crew of Apollo 13

When displaying artifacts, you’re always limited with how much history you can reveal about the object. Sometimes, in the interest of preservation, interesting features of an object (or even the object itself) will never be displayed. In this case, the checklist has been displayed face down to preserve the crew’s inscription on the cover. Over time UV rays can cause ink to fade away and certain papers to become yellow and brittle. However, working closely with our fabricators, security team, and exhibits department, we’ve arranged to feature unique elements of this amazing document.

Space Center Houston would like to express our thanks to Mr. Millican for his service to NASA and his generous donation to Space Center Houston.

The Apollo 13 checklist can be viewed in the Starship Gallery at Space Center Houston.