NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM

Carrying the Fire

National Air and Space Museum acting director Christopher U. Browne reflects on the life and legacy of one of his predecessors, Apollo 11 astronaut and former Museum director Michael Collins.


Michael Collins, the Museum's third director, stands before the steel skeleton of the new National Air and Space Museum in July 1974.
Michael Collins, the Museum's third director, stands before the steel skeleton of the new National Air and Space Museum in July 1974.

Michael Collins, one of the first directors of our museum, passed away this week. Mike, as he liked to be called, was an exceptional combat and test pilot, Gemini and Apollo astronaut, and public servant.

Mike piloted the Apollo 11 command module Columbia on its epic flight to the Moon and back. He would always say that he was as Earthbound as the rest of us and no different than anyone else, but NASA knew what they were getting when they selected Mike for the mission and the history books: a humble man of remarkable ingenuity, creativity, integrity, and authenticity.

Artifacts of his extraordinary life will be displayed at our museum forever—but we remember him for much more than his role in history’s greatest adventure. Our institution was defined by Mike’s clear vision—and that is as true today as it was when he opened our doors for the first time in 1976. While we are engaged in an effort to transform that same Museum for the next 50 years and beyond, our charge is to preserve the spirit he embodied and imbued here. Whatever else may change as progress and history marches on, this will always be Mike’s museum. Although he would have never used those words, it was his bicentennial gift to the nation, and helping to preserve his legacy will be our gift to future generations.

As an astronaut, Mike had occasion to look out at both the Moon and Earth, and know that all of humankind and all its history was in his forward field of view. As we move on without Mike, better for having known him, the future is in our forward view and it’s our turn to carry the fire. He prepared us well for that noble task—and I hope the world in his window will always remember the name Michael Collins.

Christopher U. Browne
National Air and Space Museum Acting Director

Michael Collins in spacesuit
Michael Collins' NASA astronaut portrait. None