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Collins, Michael, 1930-2021



  • Existence: 1930 - 2021

Biographical Note

Pilot, astronaut, U.S. assistant secretary of state, National Air and Space Museum director, and author, Michael Collins was born in Rome, Italy, on October 31, 1930. He graduated from Saint Albans School in Washington, D.C., before attending the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), where he obtained a bachelor of science degree in 1952.

Collins received an Air Force commission and, after pilot training, was assigned to Nellis Air Base for advanced training on the F-86 Sabrejet. Upon completion of training, he was assigned to the 21st Fighter- Bomber Wing, stationed in Victorville, California and, later, France. In 1961, Collins completed test pilot school and was assigned to Edwards Air Force Base, where he tested experimental fighter jets. (In the meantime, he had married Patricia Finnegan; the couple would have three children: Kathleen, Ann and Michael.)

Interested in NASA's manned space program, Collins enrolled in the newly established Aerospace Pilot School in 1963. In October of that year, he was among the third group of astronauts selected by NASA. Collins served as a member of the backup crew for the Gemini 7 mission and as pilot of NASA's Gemini 10 mission (launched July 18, 1966) with commander John Young. Among the mission's noteworthy accomplishments were the establishment of a new orbital altitude record, a rendezvous with an Agena target vehicle, and two spacewalks conducted by Collins.

Due to the rotational basis on which astronauts were assigned to Apollo missions, Collins was originally scheduled to be a member of the Apollo 8 flight crew. His need for back surgery, however, forced his re- assignment to a later mission. The postponement placed Collins on the crew of Apollo 11 (launched July 16, 1969), the first manned mission to land on the lunar surface. As the mission's command module pilot, Collins orbited the moon while commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin descended to its surface.

In January 1970, Collins resigned from NASA and served as assistant secretary of state for public affairs before becoming the first director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in April 1971; he was promoted to undersecretary of the Smithsonian in April 1978. During this time, Collins began writing about his experiences in the space program, leading to his book Carrying the Fire(and a subsequent children's adaptation, Flying to the Moon and Other Strange Places). His expertise and talents led to numerous requests for speaking engagements, articles and book reviews. In 1988, he published Liftoff!,a book on the history and future of space exploration; his Mission to Marswas published in 1990.

Collins served on the boards of numerous organizations and corporations throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He became vice-president of field operations for the Vought Corporation in 1980, then resigned to head his own consulting firm, Michael Collins Associates, in 1985. He retired from the Air Force Reserve with the rank of major general in 1982.

Collins' awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom; the Collier, Harmon and Goddard trophies; the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster; the Distinguished Flying Cross and many others. He has received awards from eleven other countries and honorary degrees from six colleges and universities.

Michael Collins died on April 28, 2021.

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

Michael Collins Papers

Identifier: Ms-1989-029
Abstract The collection includes the papers of Michael Collins, pilot, astronaut, assistant secretary of state, director of the National Air and Space Museum and author, dating from 1907-2004. Materials include reports, instruction manuals, personal notes, printed materials, audio recordings, photographs, awards and memorabilia associated with Collins' Air Force, NASA, State Department and NASM careers. There are also papers and research relating to Collins' writings; materials from public speaking...
Dates: 1907 - 2004

James Dean Collection

Identifier: Ms-2003-061

The collection consists of reference material NASA artist James Dean used in producing the artwork for astronaut Michael Collins' book Liftoff: The Story of America's Adventure in Space and Dean's book Journey into Space.

Dates: 1961 - 1988