An Apollo Lunar Module in Philly. Maybe.
Sunday, July 17, 2011 at 12:02PM
William Neff

CLICK TO SEE FULL-RES PHOTO... interesting study in scale, as well as just one damned unusual sight.

This is LTA (Lunar Test Article) 3, essentially a sheet-metal mockup of an Apollo Lunar Module built by NASA for weight, balance and structural tests to prepare for the moon landings. It's parked out back of the Franklin Institute, one of our favorite haunts during my years in Philadelphia.

Now, for years it was reported that the Module sitting at the Franklin Institute was LM-14, a spaceworthy Lunar Module originally intended to go to the Copernicus crater as part of the Apollo 20 mission. This would have suited me, if true, since the Command Module originally slated for Apollo 20 now sits at the Great Lakes Science Center here in Cleveland. I've crawled inside it. If I could get the Institute to allow me to visit the interior of this Lunar Module, then I would achieve the unusual feat of having stood in both ends of the canceled Apollo 20 moon mission.

It took some wheedling, but I was successful. As part of the reporting for this graphic, I was granted permission to join a couple of docents and follow in the footsteps of the 12 men who have walked on the moon, ascending that famous ladder and squeezing my way into a Lunar Module.

Once I was inside, however, it didn't take me long to realize that this was definitely not a flight article. It was strictly a mockup, and could never have been anything but a mockup.

With the, er, help of the NASA history office (who seemed to feel they had better things to do than help an annoyingly persistent reporter track down the provenance of decaying 3rd-rate Apollo hardware), I eventually was able to identify the craft as LTA-3 - a revelation that took the Franklin Institute's people by surprise as well.

The rumors persist that parts of this thing really are from LM-14. And that ascent stage, while it can't have been from a flight article, had to come from somewhere — because the Kansas City Cosmosphere makes a good case that they have the ascent stage of the real LTA-3. And while my dreams of completing the Apollo 20 Grand Tour have gone up in smoke, I console myself with having made a fascinating trip through the musty attic of Apollo history.


Article originally appeared on William Neff's Web Portfolio (
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