BLACKSBURG — Michael Collins’ flight plan lays out everything he and his fellow Apollo 11 crew members needed to do to have a successful moon landing.
Today that plan, and a cache of other mementos related to the Apollo missions, are part of Virginia Tech’s special collections located on the first floor of Newman Library.
They are on display until Aug. 16 to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the July 20, 1969, moon landing. They’re part of Virginia Tech’s massive Archives of American Aerospace Exploration.
The materials “capture the excitement and wonder of what happened,” said Marc Brodsky, a special collections public services and reference archivist.
Collins orbited around the moon while his fellow astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, made their descent to the lunar surface. One of Brodsky’s favorite items is a letter to Collins from another notable historical figure, Charles Lindbergh. The letter praises Collins for his role in the landing.
Lindbergh wrote: “I watched every minute of the walk-out, and certainly it was of indescribable interest. But it seems to me you had an experience of in some ways greater profundity — the hours you spent orbiting the moon alone, and with more time for contemplation.
“What a fantastic experience it must have been — alone looking down on another celestial body, like a god of space! There is a quality of aloneness that those who have not experienced it cannot know — to be alone and then to return to one’s fellow men once more.
There are dozens of boxes of items featuring Collins’ original copy of the flight plan, on which he jotted “the real McCoy:” photographs taken by Collins from his vantage point orbiting the moon; and gifts he received from fans, including commemorative postcards from Soviet cosmonauts.
Tech’s library began receiving materials from giants in the space program in the 1980s. The donations started in 1986 with a gift from Chris Kraft, a Tech graduate and director of flight operations for Apollo 11.
Kraft, now in his late 90s and a resident of the Houston area, declined a Roanoke Times interview request, but he spoke to the Houston Chronicle on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing about how he saw his job as flight director as better than that of the astronauts.
“I liked my job better than theirs,” Kraft told the paper. “I got to go on every flight, and besides that, I got to tell them what to do.”
Kraft, the namesake of Kraft Drive in Blacksburg, loved his alma mater and his decision to donate many of his personal materials influenced others involved in the space program to do the same.
Kraft’s donation and aggressive work by Tech archivists in the 1980s led to Collins’ donation as well as donations from a number of other aeronautical sources like Evert Clark, an aviation and space journalist who covered Apollo 11 mission for Newsweek and Robert Gilruth, former head of the Space Task Group for project Mercury and director of NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston.