Dear Columbia: Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins says thanks
The mission's command module pilot pays tribute to the spacecraft that kept him company on the moon's far side.
Michael Collins flew in both the Gemini 10 and the Apollo 11 space missions in the 1960s. After retiring from NASA in 1970, he became director of the National Air and Space Museum until 1978, when he became undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution. From 1982 to 2006, he served on the National Geographic Society's board of trustees. Collins died from cancer at age 90 on April 28, 2021. He contributed this essay to our "Dear Spacecraft" series in 2019.
Dear Apollo 11 Command Module,
May I still call you Columbia? I know you are still traveling, visiting museums now instead of zooming off to strange places, but before you get too complacent, I want to remind you of your humble origin. You were born in 1966 in Downey, California, and there I christened you. Gumdrop, one of your predecessors was called, but I bypassed your awkward, squashed-mushroom geometry and looked to your future, bobbing gracefully on the Pacific swells: indeed Columbia, Gem of the Ocean.
How well I remember nursing you along the assembly line, not an easy process as we labored past midnight through one arduous test after another to validate your credentials. I was proud of you and eager