The United States' first commercial astronaut has placed his personal collection on museum display 19 years (and two days) after he made his first historic launch into space.
Mike Melvill and his wife Sally have donated their archives to the Experimental Aircraft Association's (EAA) Aviation Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The new exhibit opened to the public on Friday (June 23) just opposite and underneath a full-scale replica of Melvill's ride, SpaceShipOne.
"The EAA Aviation Museum is unveiling the new Melvill Collection," the association posted to its social media accounts on Tuesday. "It honors Mike Melvill, the nation's first commercial astronaut, who flew SpaceShipOne above 100 kilometers [62 miles] on June 21, 2004."
"Thank you to Mike and Sally Melvill for making this unique display possible," the staff at the EAA wrote.
Although not as expansive as the museum's other two astronaut exhibitions — the EAA has been home to Gemini and Apollo veteran Frank Borman's archives since 2018 and X-15 and space shuttle commander Joe Engle's mementos since 2021 — what the Melvill collection does not have in size, it makes up for in scope. The pieces on display speak to both Mike's career as a record-setting pilot and his and Sally's 62 years together.
The exhibit includes the National Aeronautic Association's Robert J. Collier trophy as presented to Melvill, along with fellow pilot Brian Binnie, designer Burt Rutan, sponsor Paul Allen and the entire SpaceShipOne team, in 2004. Also on display is Melvill's first Iven C. Kincheloe Award, which he received in recognition of flight testing Scaled Composites' Model 281 Proteus, a tandem-wing high-altitude long-endurance aircraft that helped pave the way for the SpaceShipOne carrier, White Knight (One).
Melvill's astronaut wings are here, too. On the same day he flew SpaceShipOne above Earth's atmosphere for the first time, Melvill was awarded the first set of Commercial Astronaut Wings by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Today, they are one of only 30 to exist. Although the the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continues to maintain a list of qualifying individuals, the presentation of physical wings ceased in 2021.
The Melvill exhibit also showcases memorabilia from his career. On display are two envelopes ("covers") postmarked for the two X Prize spaceflights, each signed and carried into space by their respective pilots (Melvill and Binnie). There are also six rarely seen patches representing White Knight and SpaceShipOne flights.
And then there is the bag of gray, blue and white custom-printed M&Ms. Unable to float around the cabin due to his having to remain strapped into his seat, Melvill demonstrated that he was weightless by reaching into his pocket and releasing a handful of the candy-coated chocolates. The impromptu and unexpected sight on the June 21 flight resulted in Mars, Inc. becoming a sponsor of the X Prize flights that followed.
The exhibit includes one of the commemorative bags of custom-printed M&Ms that were given out to spectators at both the Sept. 29 and Oct. 4, 2004 spaceflights. (The EAA also has a few of Melvill's flown M&Ms that were scooped off the floor of SpaceShipOne after he landed from his first flight, but their addition to the exhibit is still to come.)
The display is titled "The Mike and Sally Melvill Collection," not just the Mike Melvill collection, and that is reflected by several of the items. Married in 1961, Sally received her pilot's license in 1977 and the two went to work for the Rutan Aircraft Factory for more than 30 years. Both are EAA lifetime members (since 1977 and 1981, respectively) as represented by a pair of wooden plaques.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is a small silver horseshoe-shaped pin that Mike gave Sally when she was 16. Whenever he would go on a risky flight, Sally would give him the pin to wear — including aboard SpaceShipOne. It served as Mike's lucky charm, as he would return the pin to Sally after every landing.