The National Aviation Hall of Fame on April 28 reported the passing of former Gemini 7 astronaut Major General Michael Collins USAF (Ret.) at age 90. Collins’ family reports via social media that Collins “passed away today, after a valiant battle with cancer.” Collins, a NAHF enshrine, was better known as the Command Module Pilot on the Apollo 11 mission that allowed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to become the first humans to set foot on the Moon. Mike Collins created the flight’s iconic Apollo 11 mission patch and also served as the first director of the National Air and Space Museum.
The NAHF said, “Having been inspired by John Glenn’s extraordinary Earth orbit aboard the Friendship 7, USAF test pilot Michael Collins decided to become an astronaut. He applied but was not initially selected. He persevered, and after completing the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards, Collins, in 1963, was among the third group of 14 astronauts selected for training.”
The lesser known Collins story, also reported by the NAHF, is that by the early 1970s, America had become excited and proud of the successes in space and there was a renewed interest in the (now named) National Air & Space Museum (NASM). Commander Michael Collins, inspired and supported by Barry Goldwater, ardently lobbied for funding and gained political momentum, and eventually, support. After persuasive petitioning by several influential leaders including Collins, $40 million was allocated for construction. Billed as ‘America’s Birthday present to itself,’ Collins’ challenge was the construction of the facility during the era of ‘Low-Cost Alternatives.’ The tight budget and building constraint made for a formidable leadership contest…The Smithsonian’s then-newest museum was opened on July 1, 1976, by President Gerald Ford [and became] an extraordinary success, receiving one million visitors during its first month and 10 million in the first year…Michael Collins remained as the director of the National Air & Space Museum until 1978.” Collins received the National Aeronautics Association’s Wright Brothers Trophy presented in a banquet dinner hosted by the Washington Aero Club in December 2019.