Three days from now, on July 21st, we will observe the 48th anniversary of the first time a man walked on the moon. While Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were on the surface, Michael Collins was inside the Command Module orbiting alone, miles above the the events taking place below.
Stop for just a minute and reflect on what it must be like not only to be so far removed from human contact but to be cut off from any contact on every orbit, and all the while waiting to be reunited with his crew mates, or preparing for the possibility of returning to Earth by himself.
Loneliness has taken on a new meaning since this post was first published. Neil Armstrong died on August 25, 2012. Perhaps it is only fitting that the mission Commander is leading the way for his crew into the next Great Unknown.
The following post is from 2012:
43 years ago today Apollo 11 Astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, became the first men to walk on the moon. Their crew mate, Michael Collins, orbited the moon as they collected rock samples and set up scientific instruments.
“Not since Adam has any human known such solitude as Mike Collins is experiencing during this 47 minutes of each lunar revolution when he’s behind the Moon with no one to talk to except his tape recorder aboard Columbia.” That is what Mission Control observed as they woke up Collins in the Command/Service Module, Columbia, prior to his reunion with the two Lunar Explorers.
According to an interview with Michael Collins 3 years ago on the Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Mission, Collins was obsessed with “…the reliability of the ascent engine of Armstrong and Aldrin’s lander, Eagle. It had never been fired on the Moon’s surface before and many astronauts had serious doubts about its reliability.”
Here is how Michael Collins put it:
“My secret terror for the last six months has been leaving them on the Moon and returning to Earth alone; now I am within minutes of finding out the truth of the matter,” he wrote. “If they fail to rise from the surface, or crash back into it, I am not going to commit suicide; I am coming home, forthwith, but I will be a marked man for life and I know it.”
As we all know, the ascent engine did work and the Lunar Module rejoined the C/SM and all 3 astronauts returned safely to Earth. As to his claim to fame, that was simple fate… “Neil Armstrong was born in 1930. Buzz Aldrin was born in 1930, and Mike Collins, 1930. We came along at exactly the right time. We survived hazardous careers and were successful in them. But in my own case at least, it was 10% shrewd planning and 90% blind luck. Put ‘Lucky’ on my tombstone.”
Update: January 1, 2014
President Nixon’s speechwriter, William Safire, had the job of drafting an announcement to be read by the President in the event that astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin were stranded on the Moon and unable to return to Earth. Click here to read that chilling memo on the Letters of Note website.