The Great Unknown

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.

Photo of Apollo 11 Mission patch.

Apollo 11 Mission Patch
Design by Michael Collins

“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.”

Photo of Michael Collins inside space capsule.

Astronaut Michael Collins
Photo Courtesy of NASA

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.

Update: May 28, 2016

Astronomers Make Surprising Discovery on Dark Side of the Moon

  6 comments for “The Great Unknown

  1. July 29, 2017 at 2:54 PM

    What an interesting and thought provoking post. Thank you Allan.


  2. July 19, 2017 at 9:12 AM

    So remarkable that they were able to make it to the moon with such limited technology – a wing and a prayer as it were. Now we have the technology but neither the resolve, budget nor foresight to do anything about space exploration… Excellent post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • July 19, 2017 at 9:18 AM

      At this point we may need to explore our collective Inner Space before moving on to other worlds.


  3. July 18, 2017 at 3:34 PM

    Wow, that was interesting, Allan. I never knew about that letter before, but I’ve tried to imagine not only the loneliness of being in space but the terror/horror if stranded on the moon and detached from a line and lost in space. Thankfully, I can’t and thankfully, it hasn’t happened to anyone. I do think it’s a shame that the space program has come to what seems to me to be a grinding halt or maybe, a limping shuffle.


    Liked by 1 person

    • July 18, 2017 at 4:01 PM

      The program seems to be a dim light in a vast dark room, Janet. It happened at a moment in time that I was blessed to witness.

      Liked by 1 person

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