Few things fascinate the human imagination quite like space.
The topic has been the subject of countless science-fiction movies, fueled the ambitions of modern-day tech entrepreneurs with deep pockets, and inspired our own idle daydreaming — What would it be like to walk on the moon?
This week, a very lo-tech item captured the imaginations of a group of people who gathered at the Living Computer Museum + Labs in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood. The event surely would have piqued the interest of the late billionaire Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft, founded the museum, and passed in November.
Visitors huddled inside a dark exhibit room and peered into a lighted glass case to glimpse a laptop-sized, three-ring booklet laded with American history: the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Timeline Book.
According to Christie’s, the book flew aboard the Lunar Module Eagle, tucked between astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and served as a step-by-step procedures manual as the pair landed the lunar module Eagle on the moon on July 20, 1969.
The book includes nearly 150 annotations and completion checklists made in real-time by the astronauts, and narrates the entire 34-hour voyage of Eagle — from inspection, undocking, lunar surface descent, stay, and ascent to the lunar orbit rendezvous with command module Columbia and its pilot, astronaut Michael Collins.
Notably, the Eagle’s coordinates on the moon’s Sea of Tranquility were written by Aldrin on page 10 within moments of landing, according to Christie’s, making it the first writing by a human being on a celestial body other than earth.
“People collect books because they are time capsules,” explained Christina Geiger, head of the rare books department at Christie’s in New York. “You can hold them in your hands and appreciate the moment when the human imagination got a little bit bigger, and the diversity of human experience got a little bit bigger. This book is magical to me because it was right there and right then at one of the most inspirational moments in the history of our species. It witnesses and just narrates this exact time and place in a very special way.”
Dr. Roger Launius, who served as chief historian at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and a senior official at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, before he retired two years ago, echoed Geiger’s view of the book’s importance.
“It is one of a kind,” he explained during a presentation on lunar exploration at the museum. “This one went to the moon for Apollo 11 in 1969, and that makes all the difference in the world. It’s one of those things that the astronauts could not have performed their tasks without it. So, that makes it really significant.”
The viewing this week in Seattle was made possible by Christie’s, Seattle Art Fair, AIG, and the Living Computer Museum + Labs. It was the first viewing event on the West Coast, and part of a global tour leading up to July 18, when the book will be auctioned by Christie’s in New York, where it is expected to fetch between $7 million and $9 million.