The Hornet was commissioned in 1943 and saw action in the western Pacific during some of the major campaigns at the end of World War II. Perhaps its most famous role was as the recovery ship for Apollos 11 and 12 when they returned from the Moon in 1969.
The Hornet hosts what is billed as the largest collection of Apollo-related material on display on the West Coast. Among the exhibits one can see:
- A Sea King helicopter which was last used in the movie Apollo 13, and which is painted identically to the helicopter that brought the Apollo 11 crew on board the Hornet following splashdown.
- Painted footprints on the deck, tracing the Apollo 11 crew's walk from the Sea King to a Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) van.
- The MQF, which is the one used by the Apollo 14 crew, the last crew which was quarantined following a Moon landing. The tabletop in the MQF is autographed by Ed Mitchell of the Apollo 14 crew!
- A 1/48 scale model of the Saturn V launch vehicle, nearly 9 feet tall.
- A 1/12 or 1/10 scale contractor's model of an early version of the Lunar Excursion Module.
- A Moon rock from Apollo 15 (not present during my visit).
- Numerous Lucite displays with pieces of Kapton insulation from Apollos 11 and 12.
My visit to the Hornet was, coincidentally, just four days shy of the anniversary of the AS-202 flight on August 25, 1966.
AS-202 was an unmanned test of the Command and Service Modules in Earth orbit, primarily to test the Service Propulsion System and the ability of the CM's heat shield to withstand a high-velocity reentry. The tests were successful, although the capsule splashed down nearly 200 miles off target. The capsule was recovered by the Hornet about 8-1/2 hours after landing.
I wish I'd had the foresight to bring a camera with me to California this trip. However, I doubt that I could have captured the scale of the Hornet or the sense of history that I felt getting to tour her. The ship's website provides information for potential visitors, including several Quicktime-VR panoramas of various locations on the ship. If you scroll this panorama about 180 degrees around and zoom in, you'll see the capsule as well as the MQF and Sea King helicopter.