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Michael Collins Papers

Identifier: Ms-1989-029

Scope and Content

The Michael Collins Papers document the life and career of Collins, pilot, astronaut, assistant secretary of state, director of the National Air and Space Museum (NASM), and author.

The collection comprises correspondence, notes, printed material, photographs, and audio recordings from Collins' Air Force career, training at the U. S. Test Pilot School and Experimental Flight Center, participation in NASA's Gemini and Apollo programs, and tenure at the State Department and NASM. The collection also includes materials associated with Collins' books Carrying the Fire, Flying to the Moon and Other Strange Places, and Liftoff!, as well as various articles and book reviews written by him. Collins' many public appearances are represented here with background materials, speech notes, texts, printed material, and photographs. The collection also contains a number of files, largely composed of correspondence, devoted to Collins' involvement with various boards and clubs. In addition, there are small sets of personal correspondence, biographical materials, and an assortment of honors and memorabilia.


  • 1907 - 2004


Language of Materials

Most of this collection is in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

Much of this collection is copyrighted. Copyright restrictions may apply. Contact Special Collections and University Archives for assistance in determining the use of these materials.

Reproduction or digitization of materials for personal or research use can be requested using our reproduction/digitization form: Reproduction or digitization of materials for publication or exhibit use can be requested using our publication/exhibition form: Please contact Special Collections and University Archives ( or 540-231-6308) if you need assistance with forms or to submit a completed form.

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.


24.9 Cubic Feet (39 boxes, 1 oversize folder, and 1 object)


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 engagements and board and club memberships; and small sets of personal correspondence and biographical material.


The collection is arranged in the following series:

Series I. Air Force, 1953-1973. This series contains Collins' individual flight record (including his later NASA flights) and an accident report for the crash of an F-86 fighter jet piloted by him. The series also consists of a number of test pilot manuals from the USAF Flight Test Center and reports written by Collins while at the Experimental Flight Test Pilot School. Additionally, there are a few items relating to survival training and an Aerospace Research Pilot School publication with sketches and photographs of ARPS and Experimental Test Pilot School graduates. The series is arranged chronologically.

Series II. Project Gemini, 1962-1967. The Project Gemini Series contains a number of preparatory materials which has instruction manuals, class materials and Collins' own notes on astronomy, geology and the Gemini spacecraft. From the Gemini 10 flight, the series consists of an audio recording of the liftoff, transcripts of voice communications and mission commentaries, and photographs. The series also comprises official post-mission reports and two Gemini 10 newsclipping scrapbooks. The series is arranged in subseries by material type.

Series III. Project Apollo, 1966-2004. Like the Project Gemini series, this series contains Collins' preparatory notes. Additionally, it includes transcripts of mission commentary, flight communications, and press feeds during post-flight recovery of the command module. The series has a number of audio recordings, which range from a pre-flight press conference to television coverage of the mission, and post-mission public appearances by the crew. Print media coverage of the mission may be found in a set of NASA Current News publications and other printed materials. The series consists of approximately 200 mission photographs and a number of commemorative materials. (Among the more unusual items are a collection of songs and poems inspired by Apollo 11 and a book of congratulatory letters from French civic leaders.) Post-mission materials comprises files devoted to five- and ten-year anniversary observances of the moon landing and audio recordings relating to the Apollo program and missions 12 and 13. The series is arranged in subseries by material type. Within subseries, materials are in chronological order wherever possible.

Series IV. Assistant Secretary of State, 1969-1971. Collins' brief career with the U. S. State Department is chronicled here through notes, correspondence (including letters from President Nixon), audio recordings and printed materials. The series is arranged by item format, then chronologically.

Series V. National Air and Space Museum, 1971-1979. This series comprises materials relating to Collins' directorship of NASM - particularly to the museum's design, groundbreaking and opening. The collection also consists of newsclippings devoted to museum exhibits and Collins as director. Audio recordings of events commemorating Collins' farewell complete the series. Arranged by form of item, then chronologically.

Series VI. Boards and Clubs, 1973-1989. This series, largely devoted to the many advisory and editorial boards on which Collins served throughout the 1970s and 1980s, includes correspondence, notes, printed materials and photographs. There are a few folders on clubs to which Collins belonged. The series is arranged alphabetically by organization name.

Series VII. Writings, 1908-2004. This series comprises materials relating to the writing and publication of Collins' books Carrying the Fire, Flying to the Moon and Other Strange Places, and Liftoff! and includes background materials, typescripts, galley proofs, reviews and publicity. (The files for Carrying the Fire also have correspondence with Charles Lindbergh about his foreword to the book.) A number of Collins' articles, book reviews and opinion / editorial pieces are contained here as well. The series is arranged in subseries by publication type (book, magazine article, book review, etc.), then chronologically within each subseries.

Series VIII. Speeches, 1970-1996. Collins' many public addresses throughout the 1970s and 1980s are represented here with background materials, speech texts, printed materials and photographs. The series is arranged chronologically by date of speech.

Series IX. Personal Correspondence, 1963-1973. This small series comprises correspondence which did not fit neatly into those series devoted to specific aspects of Collins' career. It has a number of letters relating to NASA and the Apollo program. (Most noteworthy are letters from "Buzz" Aldrin, Charles Lindbergh and Lyndon B. Johnson.) The series is arranged chronologically.

Series X. Biographical Materials, 1966-2003. Like the personal correspondence series, this series was created from materials not associated with any specific aspect of Collins' public career. The series consists of a few printed materials with interviews or biographical sketches of Collins and several photographs. The series is arranged in subsidies by material type.

Series XI. Honors and Memorabilia, 1961-1989. This series contains awards honoring Collins and his work the form of certificates, medals, and plaques from the United States, individual states, foreign countries, military organizations, and private corporations. The series also has just a few items of memorabilia, among which are a piece of fabric from the Kitty Hawk "Wright Flyer," Collins' pilot clipboard, a Gemini sunscreen plate, a short film of Collins family scenes and commemorative items from NASA's Apollo and Voyager missions. The series is arranged in subsidies by material type. Within subseries, materials are in chronological order wherever possible.

Source of Acquisition

The Michael Collins Papers were donated to Special Collections and University Archives in 1989. Additional donations were acquired in 2005 and 2007.

Existence and Location of Copies

Some of this collection has been digitized and is available online.

Separated Materials

The following items were transferred to the Rare Book Collection:

  • Aeronautics: The American Magazine of Aerial Locomotion, 8(5), November 1910.
  • Hallion, Richard P., "Girding for War: Perspectives on Research, Development, Acquisition, and the Decision-making Environment of the 1980's," Edwards Air Force Base, CA: History Office, Air Force Flight Test Center, 1985.
  • Journey to Halley's Comet, [S.l.]: NASA, 1980.
  • National Security Strategy of the United States, Washington, D.C.: The White House, 1988.
  • Origin and Evolution of Life--Implications for the Planets: a Scientific Strategy for the 1980's, Washington, D. C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1981.
  • Our First Quarter Century of Achievement... Just the Beginning [NASA 25th anniversary press kit], [S.l.]: NASA, 1983.
  • Report to the President : Actions to Implement the Recommendations of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, [Washington, D.C.: U.S.G.P.O., 1986].
  • To the Moon : the Story in Sound [sound recordings with accompanying book], New York: Time Life Records, 1969.
  • Ethics of Change: Humanistic Values versus Technological Imperatives, New Smyrna Beach, FL: Atlantic Center for the Arts, 1988.
  • Viking Orbiter Views of Mars, Washington, DC: NASA Scientific and Technical Information Branch, 1980.

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the Michael Collins Papers by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 (

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement, and description of the Michael Collins Papers commenced in July 2003 and was completed in September 2003. Preliminary processing had been performed during the early 1990s. Donations from 2005 and 2007 were processed, arranged, and described in November and December 2014.

Michael Collins Papers, 1907-2004
John M. Jackson, Archivist, Kira A. Dietz, Archivist, Betsy Reed, Student Assistant, and Hannah Bochain, Student Assistant
2020 (CC0 1.0)
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US