The University Libraries at Virginia Tech’s Special Collections is joining the nationwide 50th anniversary celebration of the first moon landing by hosting an exhibit, “Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11.” The exhibit is located inside Special Collections on the first floor of Newman Library and will run until Aug. 16.
Special Collections has one of the most extensive collections of documents, memorabilia, and personal papers from this and other historic NASA missions, thanks to Virginia Tech aeronautical engineering graduate Christopher Kraft ?44. In the 1980s, Kraft, former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and head of flight operations during Apollo 11, donated his own papers to the University Libraries at Virginia Tech and encouraged his NASA colleagues to do the same.
From astronaut and command module pilot Michael Collins’ own signed and annotated Apollo 11 flight plan to photos of Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and Neil Armstrong during the mission, the items on display come from the collections of Kraft, Collins, and Evert Clark, a reporter who specialized in aviation, science and space, and covered the moon landing for Newsweek.
Curator of the Apollo 11 exhibit and archivist Marc Brodsky chose the displayed materials carefully based on what visitors might be excited to see.
“What fits? What haven’t folks seen? What might they want to remember? I wanted to include a balance of the more visual materials from the collections along with the more textual,” said Brodsky. “We will also include a set of repeating NASA videos in the center exhibit case.”
The exhibit includes a letter written by Charles Lindbergh to Michael Collins just after completion of the Apollo 11 mission. In 1927, Lindbergh was the first to complete a nonstop solo transatlantic flight, flying from New York to Paris in 33 hours. Collins spent more than 21 hours orbiting the moon alone while his fellow astronauts, Armstrong and Aldrin, were on the lunar surface. In the letter, Lindbergh speaks to the shared experience of the two flyers, each in his own realm and by himself, seeing a world as no one had before.
“What a fantastic experience it must have been — the first man alone looking down on another celestial body, like a god of space! There is a quality to aloneness that those who have not experienced it cannot know — to be alone and then to return to one’s fellow man once more,” Lindbergh wrote in his letter to Collins. “You have experienced an aloneness unknown to man before. I believe you will find that it lets you think and sense with greater clarity. Sometime in the future, I would like to listen to your own conclusions in this respect,” wrote Lindbergh.
Brodsky, a teenager in 1969, remembers watching the moon landing on television.
“We’re now 50 years away from Apollo 11. The mission fulfilled the goal John Kennedy set in 1961, to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the decade,” said Brodsky. “It was an Historic moment . . . with a capital H. I recall Walter Cronkite’s expression when Neil Armstrong said, ‘Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.’ He seemed to express relief, joy, and amazement, really, all at once. I think that’s what most of us felt.”
Visitors to the exhibit will see some of the physical reflections of that historic moment and celebrate this great achievement.