CSU played key role in restoration of Apollo 11 Mission Control Center

Mission control at Johnson Space Center

Photo courtesy of Space Center Houston

The Public Lands History Center at Colorado State University played an integral role in restoring the Johnson Space Center’s Apollo Mission Control Center that was used during the Apollo 11 moon landing 50 years ago.

The CSU center created the historic furnishings plan that was used to restore the mission control room in Houston to exactly the way it looked when the first men stepped on the moon on July 20, 1969.

CSU alumna Maren Bzdek, former program manager for the Public Lands History Center, researched and wrote the report from 2013 to 2015. NASA unveiled the newly restored control room on June 27, and Bzdek attended the ribbon-cutting.

“It was really inspiring to see it completed,” she said.

About the research

To find out how the control room looked at the time, Bzdek studied historic photos as well as archives stored at the Dallas regional office of the National Archives, the University of Houston-Clear Lake, and the Johnson Space Center. She said the pale-green consoles contained the personal items of each NASA controller, including amber glass ashtrays, cigarette packs, coffee mugs and Zippo lighters. There were bookshelves, coat racks and three-ring binders.

Bzdek, who is now senior historic preservation planner for the city of Fort Collins, also researched the console technology and configurations in use at the time, poring over old technical manuals and diagrams. She said cash-strapped NASA used the same consoles for many years, just updating and retooling them as computer technology advanced.

Close-up of a console

The control room had been considered endangered for years, since it was poorly maintained and unsecured, Bzdek said. In a July 13 article in the Colorado Springs Gazette, she wrote: “On one visit during a research sojourn, a group of us watched in shock from the viewing room as a group of NASA interns wandered in, plopped down in the swivel chairs, and ate their lunch at the consoles. Former Flight Director Gene Kranz, who served on Apollo 11, Apollo 13 and many other NASA missions, recalls how he would arrive early for his VIP tours to clean up the room before taking people in. Casual passersby scavenged console buttons and other souvenirs.”

Mission control center in 2014
Before: The mission control center as it appeared in 2014
Maren Bzdek
After: Bzdek at the newly restored control center

Restricted access

Now the newly restored mission control room is secure and can only be seen from the historic visitors viewing room, which was also restored. Bzdek said seeing all of the computer screens and large monitors at the front of the room light up for the first time during the ribbon-cutting ceremony was powerful.

“It’s incredible when you see it, because it starts out being dark, and then it all comes to life,” she said. “It’s very dramatic the way they do it. The fact that they executed the best possible version of this is so cool.”

The project to restore the National Historic Landmark was initiated by the National Park Service, and the principal investigator was Janet Ore, a faculty member in CSU’s Department of History who is now at Montana State University. Kim Sikoryak of the National Parks Service wrote a visitor experience plan that was included with Bzdek’s historic furnishings plan in the final report. Denver-based Ayuda Companies served as the lead contractor.

“So there was a nice Colorado presence in the whole project,” Bzdek said.

The Public Lands History Center, formed in 2007, integrates research, education and outreach. It works with federal, state and local entities and other partners to provide historical research services. For more information, visit publiclands.colostate.edu.