It's diamond shaped. And it's the crown jewel of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, displayed on the first floor in the Milestones of Flight Gallery. It's the Apollo 11 command module, the heat shield charred from entering Earth's atmosphere at Mach 35.
Last Sunday, July 19, as the Apollo 11 crew made their way from a sequestered place in the upper floors of the museum down an escalator to the IMAX theater for the 40th anniversary John Glenn Lecture, they paused to say a few words to an overflow crowd in the Gallery. Armstrong, in one of his rare moments of sarcasm spiced with bravado, stepped up to the microphone, looked up at the X-15 rocket plane hanging overhead, and said, "Flew that one." Then he looked down at the command module: "Flew that one." The crowd cooed with delight.
Is it a crime, then, that the command module, like so many objects on public display, is a victim of graffiti? The culprit: Mike Collins, who just before being transported from Pearl Harbor to Houston in the summer of 1969, still in the quarantine trailer with his crewmates, made his way one last time through the tube connecting the CM to their trailer, and penned a few words on an inside panel, just above the sextant port:
"Spacecraft 107 - alias Apollo 11
The Best Ship to Come Down the Line
God Bless Her