In July 1969, 65 miles above the lunar surface, command module pilot Michael Collins orbited the moon alone, at times even losing contact with Mission Control. Meanwhile, below him, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were making headlines the world over for becoming the first men to walk on the moon or, in Armstrong's famous words, taking "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Collins never received the media attention his fellow Apollo 11 crewmembers did, but his role in the historic mission remains one of NASA's most important. Upon Collins' death last year at the age of 90, NASA released this statement: "Today the nation lost a true pioneer and lifelong advocate for exploration in astronaut Michael Collins. As pilot of the Apollo 11 command module some called him 'the loneliest man in history' while his colleagues walked on the Moon for the first time, he helped our nation achieve a defining milestone."
During Heritage Auctions
' June 2-3 Space Exploration Signature® Auction, a trove of sought-after relics from Collins' estate honoring that milestone moment will land on the auction block. In addition to artifacts that have been to the moon and back, the items consigned by Collins' daughters include relics from his 1966 Gemini 10 spaceflight, a mission that set a new altitude record for human flight.
"When these items came in, I could not believe how precious and rare they were," says Brad Palmer, Heritage Auctions Space Exploration Consignment Director. "I'm so honored that the Collins family trusted us with them, and I look forward to these going to a great collection."
One of the most exceptional items in the auction is an Apollo 11-flown American flag signed and certified by Collins, who kept the flag as a treasured souvenir of his role in the first manned lunar landing. At 17.75 inches by 11.5 inches, the incredibly rare silk flag is the largest size typically flown by Apollo missions. Written in black ink on the Collectibles Authentication Guaranty-certified flag: "Carried to the Moon on Apollo XI, July 1969- /Michael Collins CMP."
Previously, in a November 2021 Heritage auction, an Apollo 11-flown American flag directly from Armstrong's family sold for $275,000.
Also featured in the June auction is a vital piece of documentation from the Apollo 11 mission, a flown and used star chart with handwritten annotations and signed by Collins. An extremely important artifact, the CAG-certified chart depicts dozens of stars and constellations and features numerous handwritten annotations by Collins, with the following written on the left border: "During the flight of/ APOLLO ELEVEN,/ I used this chart/ to help me locate stars. (The/ numbers were/ entered into/ the Command/ Module Computer/ Michael/ Collins/ CMP."
As Heritage's catalog notes, the star chart "exemplifies both the innovation of the first lunar landing as well as the fundamental technological aspects of the achievement."
Another item of note is an Apollo 11-flown MS67 NGC sterling silver Robbins medallion, one of 450 medals that made the 1969 lunar journey alongside Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin. The obverse features an incredibly distinct design: Collins' early and original concept for the mission insignia depicting an eagle carrying an olive branch in its mouth. NASA thought the sharp, open talons of the eagle appeared too "warlike" and later moved the peace-signifying olive branch to the eagle's claws.
The medallion is one of the only, if not the only, major official items that renders the insignia as Collins originally designed it.
Other highlights include an Apollo 11-flown, crew-signed "Type One" quarantine cover; a limited-edition Apollo 11 lunar plaque signed by Aldrin and Collins; and an Apollo 11-flown, crew-signed swatch of Beta cloth featuring the final version of the Collins-designed mission insignia.
Noted space historian Howard C. Weinberger, a longtime friend of Collins, was well acquainted with the items Collins kept from his time in the space program.
"Post-Apollo, Mike had become the Director of the National Air and Space Museum, where he had donated many of the artifacts he had retained," Weinberger says. "Although he was never desirous of selling what he had remaining, he let me know that one day he would and that he would certainly be asking for my assistance.
"He obviously paid attention during our talks," Weinberger continues. "I always drove the point home that certification of artifacts was a top priority. And, as one who has had the privilege of assisting and assembling some of the space program's greatest artifacts, I can say without question that the Michael Collins Collection is the finest certified group of space items ever brought to market."