Occasionally I get the chance to work with something in our collections that give me shivers, and the notebooks that astronaut Michael Collins used on the NASA Gemini and Apollo spaceflight missions definitely fall into that category. I mean, it isn’t often that you get to handle and scan items that have actually been in space! You can see the online collection here.
Michael Collins is probably most famous for his role as the command module pilot on the Apollo 11 Mission, the first manned mission to land on the lunar surface. Collins orbited the moon while commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin descended to its surface.
In 1989, Virginia Tech Special Collections was honored to receive his papers, which cover Collins’ Air Force career, training at the U. S. Test Pilot School and Experimental Flight Center, participation in NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs, and tenure at the State Department and NASM. While this collection has been heavily used by students and researchers for many years, it wasn’t until this past summer and fall of 2016 that we were able to get a large portion of it scanned and ready to go online. I’m really excited to get some of these items out there for the wider world to see.
Before the Apollo missions, Collins was also involved in the Gemini missions, serving as pilot of Gemini 10, launched July 18, 1966. During this mission, Collins and commander John Young set a new orbital altitude record and completed a successful rendezvous with a separate orbiting space vehicle, paving the way for modern day space vehicle maneuvers such as docking with the International Space Station. Another notable achievement from this mission was the successful completion of two spacewalks by Collins. Collins was the was fourth person ever to perform a spacewalk (referred to by NASA as an EVA, or Extravehicular Activity), and the first person to ever perform more than one.
After retiring from the NASA astronaut program in 1970, Collins worked for the US State Department and the Smithsonian Institute, serving as the first director of the National Air and Space Museum. The collection also includes many items related to his later work, as well as many items sent to him by adoring fans and space enthusiasts from around the world. What’s now online is just a portion of the collection, hopefully we’ll be able to get more up soon. You can see the finding aid for the collection here.
Charles Taylor Adams Played the Provocateur as Both Student and Alumnus
The title of the Herman Bruce Hawkins Papers (Ms1974-014) is a little misleading. While the materials in the one-box collection do relate to Hawkins (who graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1910, had a successful 50-year career in the power industry, remained actively involved in Virginia Tech’s alumni association, and was awarded Virginia Tech’s Distinguished Alumni Citation in 1961), the overwhelming focus is on Hawkins’ VPI classmate, Charles Taylor Adams.
A native of Richmond, Adams entered VPI as a sophomore in the school’s horticultural program in 1908. Adams became known on campus for his verbose and iconoclastic nature and his relative lack of interest in the discipline and protocol of a military school. The blurb below his picture in the 1910 Bugle sums up Adams (known more familiarly by his middle name) in this way: “Taylor has the hot-air supply of Montgomery County cornered, trussed up and stored away. And that isn’t the worst of it. If he’d keep it where he’s got it, we would not object so strenuously. But he always has it on tap … and you never can tell what is and what isn’t true.” Taylor also seems to have had a reputation for excessive idealisism and was sometimes known to friends as “Quix,” short for Quixote.
In 1909, Adams was named editor-in-chief of The Virginia Tech, forerunner of today’s Collegiate Times. Taylor presented a number of tongue-in-cheek editorials and soon began running a regular feature, “Asbestographs,” so-called because the column was intended to cover “red-hot matter,” too incendiary to print on paper. Not quite living up to its stated purpose, the column usually featured gripes about mundane aspects of campus life: the stench from campus incinerators, the inefficient laundry service, and the lack of heat in the dorms being among the many grievances aired. Adams’ diatribes were often directed against his classmates, whom he castigated for their lack of enthusiasm and involvement.
The paper’s editorials took on a more weighty subject on January 26, 1910, when Adams addressed a local issue. Some students had taken a dislike to a local Italian immigrant who had been peddling peanuts and popcorn (and, according to some, anarchism) and had pelted him with firecrackers. According to Adams (in language not politically correct), the Blacksburg mayor had paid an African-American Blacksburg resident to act as witness against two innocent cadets against whom the mayor held a grudge. The case was ultimately thrown out by the grand jury, but it came at a time when other issues were straining town-gown relations, and Adams’ editorial apparently received some negative attention from school authorities. In protest, Adams published the following week a “Spotless Edition” of The Virginia Tech. The issue contained only advertising. The sections that would have held news stories and editorials were intentionally left blank.
Adams remained editor-in-chief and seems to have completed the school year, but records indicate that he never graduated from VPI. He did, however, go on to a successful career, working for several prestigious New York advertising firms.
In 1959, classmates Adams and Hawkins reconnected through correspondence. The letters between the two served as an outlet for Adams’ views, and he wrote of his great regret for having spent his years in advertising, rather than being a communist activist:
Did I ever tell you that I once met John Reed [the American journalist who chronicled Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution] and talked with him? (and how shamed I am now that his words moved me not, and I put him down as a wild eyed young radical). It was in 1914, I think, in some smoke-filled bistro in Greenwich Village, and I was down there with some of my friends, and Reed came over to greet one of them … and not long thereafter he went over and was in the October Revolution … When I think that I might have done that, or something like it, I am shamed and deeply sick in spirit. For what have I done, in the seventy years I have had? … Advertising to make people buy things they do not need, at prices far beyond their true worth …
Remembering with fondness their time as classmates, Hawkins saw Adams as a frustrated idealist:
Your unhappiness though is, I suspect, that of so many intellectuals who expect too much of people. And with the people being what they are throughout the world, I wonder just where you might go to find happiness. In thinking back over the years I can recall now that you were a revolutionary from the start during our early years when we roamed the campus together at Blacksburg … You are though my favorite revolutionary and though it would have been thrilling to say, “I knew him well – he was one of my dearest friends” – I’m really glad that you didn’t distinguish yourself in the same way that John Reed and Lenin and Castro did.”
Taylor Adams (left) and Herman Hawkins are pictured as classmates in the 1910 Bugle.
During the next few years, the two men occasionally exchanged letters that present in microcosm the contrast of opinions on the overarching issues of the day—civil rights, nuclear arms, and the Vietnam War—Adams espousing views that at the time were considered fairly radical and often sharing printed materials from such organizations as the NAACP and the Congress for Racial Equality, while Hawkins held on to prevailing conservative opinions, such as his take on Adams’ activities as a speech-writer for the NAACP:
I do believe that you are being unrealistic for the highest hurdle the Negro has to clear is that of prejudice[,] and what you are doing through the N.A.A.C.P. – the writing of speeches for the traveling educators being sent through the plague ridden Southern States – will do nothing more than harden and heighten this barrier of prejudice.
Hawkins abruptly cut off correspondence in 1962, though Adams apparently made at least one more attempt at contact. Adams, having retired from advertising, continued to use much of his free time in sharing his opinions with whomever would listen. The Hawkins collection contains several opinion pieces that Adams contributed to publications both large and small.
In 1969, perhaps recalling the reaction that he’d been able to provoke as editor of the student newspaper 60 years earlier, Adams placed three advertisements in The Virginia Tech. In the first, he exhorted students and their parents to protest a raise in the school’s room and board rates. In another ad, Adams offered a five-dollar reward to the first person answering two questions: “How many Negroes are on the academic (not sports, dance, or Home Ec.) faculty of VPI?” and “Give name and brief description of all academic courses in Negro History, Culture and related specifically Negro subjects.” It was Adams’ third ad, however, that caused a stir.
Learning that U.S. Army Chief of Staff General William Westmoreland would be delivering an address at Virginia Tech’s ROTC commissioning ceremony on June 7, Adams place an ad in the Tech calling for recruits for a “guerilla battalion” to protest the event. The ad generated a brief firestorm of controversy, and the Hawkins collection contains a number of opinion pieces against Adams specifically and school protests generally. In the end, Adams claimed that the ad was a joke. According to a May 22 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “He said he ran it because he wanted ‘to stick a pin’ in the people at VPI, a school which he contends is behind the times.” Citing poor health, the 80-year-old Adams did not leave his home in New York to attend the event. A small, peaceful protest was, however, staged at the ceremony. (You can see footage of it in this Youtube video.)
Adams continued writing about issues of the day into his 90s and died in 1981; Hawkins died that same year.
The Hawkins papers would of course be of interest to anybody researching Hawkins, and especially his involvement in the alumni association, but much more importantly, the papers provide a small glimpse into the private, conflicting opinions of two Virginia Tech alumni on some of the bigger questions confronting the United States during the 1950s and 1960s.
“One small step for a man . . . one giant leap for mankind,” Neil Armstrong spoke these immortal words when stepping from the Lunar Module Eagle onto the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. Just over eight years after President John F. Kennedy set a national goal for putting an American on the moon, Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins brought that goal to fruition. While Armstrong and Aldrin engaged in a roughly two and a half hour EVA in the Sea of Tranquility, Michael Collins piloted the Command Module Columbia. Together the three astronauts made history.
Special Collections has an extensive collection of Michael Collins’s personal papers and artifacts from his impressive and lengthy career as an astronaut in Projects Gemini and Apollo, director of the National Air and Space Museum, and published author, just to name a few. As can be imagined, the collection contains some pretty neat items, many of which give insight into one of the most exciting decades of space travel in the twentieth century.
Perhaps one of my favorite elements of the collection is a partial set of black and white and color photographic prints made from the film shot during the Apollo 11 Mission. Many of these images are so iconic they have become almost ubiquitous in popular memory. There are, however, also a great many that are not as recognizable but just as compelling. The photographs are stunning in their beauty, and it is easy to understand how monumental their impact must have been after their initial release. Although the images are fascinating themselves, the story behind the photographs is interesting as well.
Astrophotography was certainly not new by the time Apollo 11 launched in 1969. Indeed, people had been pointing their lenses skyward since the nineteenth century. Photos taken from space were not new either. Surprisingly, though, when NASA launched Project Mercury in 1959 with the primary goal of placing an American in space, photographing the mission from the astronauts’ perspective in spacecraft was not NASA’s main concern. Cameras were taken on board to be sure (John Glenn took an Ansco Autoset with him on the Friendship 7), but photography was not a major part of the missions. Things changed, however, with the last two one-man Mercury missions of 1962 and 1963. Walter Schirra took a Hasselblad 500c, which he slightly modified to ensure better operation in space, with him during the Mercury-Atlas 8 Mission. The resulting images were very good, and NASA teamed with Hasselblad to create specially modified cameras for spaceflight.
Fast-forward a few years to July 1969 and the Apollo 11 Mission. Among the various pieces of equipment taken aboard ship for the mission were several cameras specially modified for optimal performance in space and among these were four Hasselblads one Hasselblad Electric Camera carried in the Command Module, two Hasselblad Lunar Surface Superwide-Angle Cameras carried in the Lunar Module, and one Hasselblad EL Data Camera taken to the lunar surface.
The Hasselblad images from the landing almost seem effortless in their beauty, but what they do not show is how much consideration was taken in designing and creating cameras for the mission. Operating a camera in the vacuum of space is pretty different from operating one on earth. The camera taken to the surface needed to work well in extreme temperatures. Traditional lubricants in the camera body had to be removed and replaced with those that would operate in a vacuum without hampering the camera’s functions. The body also had to be stripped down to reduce weight. The act of actually snapping a picture was also different with this camera. It was fixed to a handle with a button that triggered an exposure when pressed, and it was mounted at chest level on the astronauts’ suits (mostly Armstrong’s as he took the majority of the images on the lunar surface). As can be imagined, the position of the camera presented its own challenges for framing shots. That particular camera was also fitted with a special glass apparatus for winding film called a Reseau plate. Unlike traditional metal winders, the glass plate was designed to prevent sparking via static electricity when the film was wound in the film magazine. Also, if you look closely at the exposures made on the lunar surface, you will see small cross markings. These markings were located on the Reseau plate itself and appear on every image made with the lunar 500EL. The markings on the prints were used for measurement and analysis purposes back on Earth. So when it was all said and done, lunar photography was a little more complicated than point and click.
After the film was shot and safely secured in its removable magazines and the astronauts were ready to climb back into the Eagle and dock with the Columbia, there was something that was not loaded back into the module: the camera. Although it may seem shocking that such a fine piece of carefully crafted photographic technology was just left behind, the sacrifice was necessary so that as many lunar samples as possible could be taken back to earth. This was a practice continued throughout the subsequent manned lunar missions meaning that there actually quite a few abandoned Hasselblads, their shutters indefinitely silenced, sitting on the moon to this day. It almost gives a whole new meaning to the concept of the disposable camera.
So, if you want an opportunity to view some of the extraordinary results of the first camera on the moon, as well as those taken by the other Apollo 11 Hasselblads, I encourage you to come view the Apollo 11 photographic prints in the Michael Collins Papers (Ms1989-029) here at Special Collections. They truly embody the beauty and wonder of space that has captivated humankind for centuries and seeing them in person is a very special experience indeed.
Exhibit case with Black Panther and American Communist Party pamphlets
Exhibit case with Black Panther newspapers
In celebration of Black History Month, the Special Collections reading room is currently displaying an exhibit on the Black Panther Party and the Black Power movement. The exhibit includes Black Panther newspapers and pamphlets published in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as earlier civil rights literature from the American Communist Party.
The Black Panther Party (originally the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense) was an African-American revolutionary socialist organization active in the United States from 1966 until 1982. It was founded in Oakland, California by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. The party’s inflammatory speech and advocation of violence for political gain made it extremely controversial, even within the Black Power movement. The Panthers were famous for organizing armed citizens’ patrols to evaluate behavior of police officers. Chants such as “The Revolution has come, it’s time to pick up the gun. Off the pigs!” pitted them against the establishment and increased racial tensions. The Panthers took advantage of a California law that permitted carrying a loaded rifle or shotgun as long as it was publicly displayed and pointed at no one. In their most famous incident, in May, 1967, 30 members entered the California State Assembly carrying their armed weapons- an event which was widely publicized, and which prompted a major overhaul in gun legislation. Despite the social program work performed by the Panthers, including the creation of a community school and free food programs, the criminal activities of Black Panther members and their confrontational, militant, and violent tactics against police caused the party to lose support in the civil rights community. To this day, the Black Panthers are infamous figures, representing a violent turn in the Black Power movement.
Black Panther newspaper back covers by Emory Douglas
Police as a pig cartoon in the Black Panther newspaper
Pipe Bomb instructions in the Black Panther newspaper
Special Collections owns six original issues of the Black Panther Party’s official newspaper, The Black Panther, which are featured in this exhibit. The issues contain stories of injustice and police brutality, cartoons and information on how to carry out guerrilla attacks against the people and institutions the Black Panthers considered oppressive. Additionally, the front and back covers are adorned with the iconic art illustrations made by artist and Black Panther Minister of Culture Emory Douglas.
The pamphlets in the exhibit feature essays by important Black Panther leaders, including co-founder and self-appointed Minister of Defense Huey P. Newton. There is also a comic book titled The Adventures of Black Eldridge recounting the mythical exploits of Eldridge Cleaver. As Minister of Information, Cleaver was editor of the The Black Panther newspaper and exerted a lot of influence on the message and direction of the party.
Also included are pamphlets of earlier Black Power literature, all of which was affiliated with the American Communist Party. From the 1930s through the 1950s, the American Communists were at the forefront of promoting equal rights for African Americans and were intimately connected with the Black Power movement. One such pamphlet, entitled Equality, Land and Freedom: A Program for Negro Liberation, was published by The League of Struggle for Negro Rights, a group organized by the American Communist Party in 1930. The League campaigned for a separate black nation in the South, as well as against police brutality and Jim Crow laws. Langston Hughes, the famous Harlem writer and activist, became its President in 1934. Published between 1934 and 1935, this pamphlet sets out a “Bill of Civil Rights for the Negro People” decades before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Another pamphlet, The Road to Liberation for the Negro People, was published in 1937 by the Daily Worker, a Communist newspaper. The Meaning of ‘Black Power’ was written by James E. Jackson Jr., an official in the American Communist Party. During the McCarthy era in the early 1950s, he was indicted on charges of conspiracy and spent five years in hiding. In this pamphlet, published in 1966, Jackson works to define “Black Power” as a movement to bring about equal rights for African Americans by mobilizing these populations to vote and “secure their rightful share of government power.”
These are artifacts from a volatile period of American history as we struggled to achieve equality, documents that demonstrate the intensity and passion of those working for African American freedom and recognition. The exhibit will be up through the end of the month, so come take a look!