One Giant Leap for Engineering

Nearly 50 years after astronauts first set foot on the moon, Bradley mechanical engineering major Andrew Barth ’20 brought a piece of lunar history to life at the Smithsonian Institution. Bolt by bolt, he carefully assembled a replica of the main crew hatch on “Columbia” — the Apollo 11 command module that delivered Americans to the moon. 

Over the course of an afternoon, Barth, along with former “MythBusters” cohost Adam Savage and artist Jen Schacter, fit the hatch’s 767 pieces together in front of crowds at the National Air and Space Museum and space exploration fans watching the event’s livestream. 

“It’s amazing to work with people like Adam and Jen,” said Barth, a Metamora, Ill., native. “This is really cool to do because it’s several steps above anything I thought I’d be doing this soon.”

The build completed several months of work for Barth, who began an internship for the Smithsonian while finishing spring classes. For Project Egress, he designed a replica of the hatch from historical documents in the Institution’s archives. A high-resolution 3D scan and copies of technical drawings from the 1960s enabled CAD models of all the pieces. Once these were complete, they were sent to 44 artists and fabrication shops to make the components. The Smithsonian has made project documents available to anyone who would like to build the hatch at home. 

The internship happened through connections made on social media groups. Barth reached out to a project artist, Ryan Nagata, who made props for Apollo 11 tribute film “First Man” and knew Savage. From that, Barth received an invitation to consult on the Smithsonian project. As summer drew near, Barth asked about internships and landed the opportunity to work directly with Savage and his team.

To recreate the hatch, Barth trained himself to think like a 1960s engineer, then crossed a technology time warp to recreate parts with today’s equipment. As he navigated that divide, he gained admiration for pioneers who put people on the moon with computers that relied on reel-to-reel tapes and punch cards — electronics long considered obsolete.

“It’s a testament to the engineers and builders of the time,” he said. “They knew what they were doing because no one else could go to the moon with what they had at the time.”

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