On July 28, 1969, four days after Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, who made the first solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic in 1927, wrote a letter to Michael Collins, one of the three astronauts on the first mission to land on the moon. “I watched every minute of the walk-out, and certainly it was of indescribable interest,” he wrote. “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!”
As crewmates Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the lunar surface, Collins orbited 60 nautical miles above. His legacy in the history of space exploration, however, extends beyond his role on Apollo 11. He became director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in 1971, overseeing the opening of the main building on the National Mall in 1976, a key institution in educating the public about spaceflight and aviation. In 1974, he published what is widely regarded as the greatest astronaut autobiography ever written, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys.