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Michael Collins (astronaut)

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Michael Collins
Michael collins.jpg
Collins in July 1969
Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs
In office
January 6, 1970 – April 11, 1971
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byDixon Donnelley
Succeeded byCarol Laise
Personal details
Born (1930-10-31) October 31, 1930 (age 88)
Rome, Italy
RelationsJoseph Lawton Collins (uncle)
James Lawton Collins (father)
James Lawton Collins Jr. (brother)
Kate Collins (daughter)
Alma materUnited States Military Academy, B.S. 1952
OccupationTest pilot
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branchUnited States Air Force
Years of service1952–1970 (active duty)
RankUS-O8 insignia.svg Major General
NASA astronaut
Time in space
11 days, 2 hours, 04 minutes, 43 seconds
Selection1963 NASA Group 3
Total EVAs
Total EVA time
1 hour 28 minutes
MissionsGemini 10, Apollo 11
Mission insignia
Gemini-10-logo.png Apollo 11 insignia.png
RetirementJanuary 1970
AwardsAir Force Distinguished Service Medal
Distinguished Flying Cross
Legion of Merit
Presidential Medal of Freedom
NASA Distinguished Service Medal
NASA Exceptional Service Medal

Michael Collins (born October 31, 1930) (major general, USAF) is an American former astronaut and test pilot. Selected as part of the third group of fourteen astronauts in 1963, he flew into space twice. His first spaceflight was on Gemini 10, in which he and Command Pilot John Young performed orbital rendezvous with two different spacecraft and undertook two extra-vehicular activities (EVAs, also known as spacewalks). His second spaceflight was as the Command Module Pilot for Apollo 11. While he stayed in orbit around the Moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left in the Lunar Module to make the first manned landing on its surface. He is one of 24 people to have flown to the Moon. Collins was the seventeenth American in space, and the fourth person, and third American, to perform an EVA; and the first person to have performed more than one EVA.

Prior to becoming an astronaut, he graduated from the United States Military Academy, and from there he joined the United States Air Force and flew F-86 Sabre fighters at Chambley-Bussieres Air Base. He was accepted to the U.S. Air Force Experimental Flight Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in 1960. He unsuccessfully applied for the second astronaut group, but was accepted for the third.

After retiring from NASA in 1970, Collins took a job in the Department of State as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. A year later, he became the director of the National Air and Space Museum and held this position until 1978, when he stepped down to become undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1980, he took a job as vice president of LTV Aerospace. Collins resigned in 1985 to start his own consulting firm.

Childhood and education[edit]

Collins was born on October 31, 1930, in Rome, Italy,[1][2] to Virginia (Stewart) and James Lawton Collins,[3] a career U.S. Army officer, who was the U.S. military attaché there from 1928 to 1932.[4] He had an older brother, James Lawton Collins Jr.,[5][6] and two older sisters, Virginia and Agnes.[3] For the first 17 years of his life, Collins lived in many places as the Army posted his father to different locations: Rome; Oklahoma; Governors Island, New York; Puerto Rico; San Antonio, Texas; and Alexandria, Virginia.[7] He took his first ride in a plane in Puerto Rico aboard a Grumman Widgeon; the pilot allowed him to fly it for a portion of the flight. He wanted to fly again, but since World War II started soon after he was unable.[8] Collins studied for two years in the Academia del Perpetuo Socorro in San Juan, Puerto Rico.[9]

After the United States entered World War II, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Collins attended St. Albans School and graduated in 1948.[10] His mother wanted him to enter into the diplomatic service,[3] but he decided to follow his father, two uncles, brother and cousin into the armed services. He received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, from which his father had graduated in 1907, and his older brother in 1939,[6] which also had the advantage of being free of tuition and other fees. He graduated on June 3, 1952, with a Bachelor of Science degree, finishing 185th out of 527 cadets in the class of 1952, the same class as fellow astronaut Ed White.[3][11]

Collin's decision to join the United States Air Force was motivated by both the wonder of what the next 50 years might bring in aeronautics, and to avoid accusations of nepotism had he joined the Army where his brother was already a colonel, his father had reached the rank of major general and his uncle, General J. Lawton Collins, was the Chief of Staff of the United States Army.[12] The Air Force Academy was in its initial construction phase, and would not graduate its first class for several years. In the interim, graduates of the Military Academy were eligible for Air Force commissions.[13] Promotion was slower in the Air Force than in the Army, due to the large number of young but senior officers who had been commissioned and promoted during World War II.[12]

Military service[edit]

Fighter pilot[edit]

After entering the Air Force, Collins commenced basic flight training in the T-6 Texan at Columbus Air Force Base in Columbus, Mississippi, in August 1952, then moved on to San Marcos Air Force Base in Texas to learn instrument and formation flying, and finally to James Connally Air Force Base in Waco, Texas, for training in jet aircraft. Flying came easily to him, and unlike many of his colleagues, he had little fear of failure. He was awarded his wings on completion of the course at Waco, and in September 1953, he was chosen for advanced day fighter training at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, flying F-86 Sabres. The training was dangerous; eleven people were killed in accidents in the 22 weeks he was there.[11][14]

This was followed by an assignment in January 1954 to the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing at George Air Force Base, California, where he learned ground attack and nuclear weapons delivery techniques in the F-86. He moved with the 21st when it was relocated to Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base, France, in December 1954. He won first prize in a 1956 gunnery competition.[11][14] During a NATO exercise that summer, he was forced to eject from an F-86 after a fire started aft of the cockpit.[15] He was safely rescued and returned to Chaumont.[16]

Collins met Patricia Mary Finnegan from Boston, Massachusetts, his future wife, in an officers' mess. A graduate of Emmanuel College, where she majored in English, she was a social worker, dealing mainly with single mothers. To see more of the world she was working for the Air Force service club. After getting engaged, they had to overcome a difference in religion. Collins was nominally Episcopalian, while Finnegan came from a staunchly Roman Catholic family. After seeking permission to marry from Finnegan's father, and delaying their wedding when Collins was redeployed to West Germany during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, they married in the summer of 1957.[17] They had a daughter, actress Kate Collins, in 1959,[18] a second daughter, Ann, in 1961 and a son, Michael, in 1963.[19]

After Collins was reassigned to the United States, he attended an aircraft maintenance officer course at Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois. He would later describe this school as "dismal" in his autobiography; he found the classwork boring, flying time scarce, and the equipment outdated. Upon completing the course, he commanded a Mobile Training Detachment (MTD) and traveled to air bases around the world.[20] The detachment trained mechanics on the servicing of new aircraft, and pilots how to fly them. He later commanded a Field Training Detachment (FTD), which was a similar kind of unit, except that the students travelled to him.[21]

Test pilot[edit]

ARPS Class III graduates. Front row: Ed Givens, Tommie Benefield, Charlie Bassett, Greg Neubeck and Collins. Back row: Al Atwell, Neil Garland, Jim Roman, Al Uhalt and Joe Engle.

Collins' MTD posting allowed him to accumulate over 1,500 flying hours, the minimum required for admission to the USAF Experimental Flight Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California. He successfully applied and reported on August 29, 1960, becoming a member of Class 60-C,[22] which included future astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Irwin and Tom Stafford. They were trained to be military test pilots. Instruction started with the old T-28 Trojan, and proceeded through the high performance F-86, B-57 Canberra, T-33 Shooting Star and the F-104 Starfighter.[23]

Collins used to smoke heavily, but decided to quit in 1962 after suffering a particularly bad hangover. The next day, he spent what he described as the worst four hours of his life in the right-hand seat of a B-52 Stratofortress flicking switches while going through the initial stages of nicotine withdrawal.[24]

The turning point for Collins in his decision to become an astronaut was the Mercury Atlas 6 flight of John Glenn on February 20, 1962, and the thought of being able to circle the Earth in 90 minutes. He applied for the second group of astronauts that year. To raise the numbers of Air Force pilots selected, the Air Force sent their best applicants to a "charm school". Medical and psychiatric examinations at Brooks Air Force Base, Texas, and interviews at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, followed. In mid-September he found out he had not been accepted. It was a blow even though he did not expect to be selected. Collins rated the second group of nine as better than the Mercury Seven that preceded them, or the five groups that followed, including his own.[25]

That year the USAF Experimental Flight Test Pilot School became the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School (ARPS), as the Air Force tried to enter into space research through the X-15 and X-20 programs. Collins applied for a new postgraduate course offered into the basics of spaceflight. He was accepted into the third class, which was selected on October 22, 1962. Other students in his eleven-member class included future astronauts Charles Bassett, Edward Givens and Joe Engle.[26] Along with classwork they also flew up to about 90,000 feet (27,000 m) in F-104 Starfighters. As they passed through the top of their arc, they would experience a brief period of weightlessness. On finishing this course he returned to fighter operations in May 1963.[27]

At the start of June of that year, NASA once again called for astronaut applications. Collins went through the same process as with his first application, though he did not take the psychiatric evaluation. He was at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, on October 14 when Deke Slayton called and asked if he was still interested in becoming an astronaut. Bassett was also accepted in the same group.[28] By this time Collins had flown over 3,000 hours, of which 2,700 were in jet aircraft.[29]

Space program[edit]

Compared with the first two groups of astronauts, the third group of fourteen astronauts of which Collins were younger, with an average age of 31—the first two groups had an average age of 34.5 and 32.5 at their time of selection—and were better educated, with an average of 5.6 years of tertiary education; but they had fewer flying hours—2,300 on average compared with 3,500 and 2,800 for the first two groups, and only eight of the fourteen were test pilots. Of the thirty astronauts selected in the first three groups, only Collins and his third group colleague William Anders were born outside the United States,[30][31] and Collins was the only one with an older brother; all the rest were the eldest or only sons in their families.[32] Training began with a 240-hour course of the basics of spaceflight. Fifty-eight hours of this was devoted to geology, something that Collins did not readily understand and in which he never became very interested.[33] At the end, Alan Shepard, the Chief of the Astronaut Office, asked the fourteen to rank their fellow astronauts in the order they would want to fly with them in space. Collins picked David Scott in the number one position.[34]

Project Gemini[edit]

Crew assignments[edit]

Collins with John Young and a model of their Gemini spacecraft and Titan II booster

After this basic training, the third group were assigned specializations, with Collins receiving his first choice of pressure suits and extravehicular activities (EVAs, also known as spacewalks).[35] His job was to monitor the development and act as a liaison between the Astronaut Office and contractors.[36] He was disturbed by the secretive planning of Ed White's EVA on Gemini 4, because he was not involved despite being the person with the greatest knowledge of the subject.[37]

In late June 1965, Collins received his first crew assignment: the backup pilot for Gemini 7,[38] with his West Point classmate Ed White named as the backup mission commander. Collins was the first of the fourteen to receive a crew assignment,[39] though would not be the first to fly; that honor went to Scott on Gemini 8,[40] and Bassett was assigned to Gemini 9.[41] Under the system of crew rotation established by Slayton, being on the backup crew of Gemini 7 set Collins up to become pilot of the Gemini 10 mission.[42] Gemini 7 was commanded by Borman, whom Collins knew well from their days at Edwards, with Jim Lovell as the pilot. Collins made a point of providing a daily briefing to their wives, Susan Borman and Marilyn Lovell, on the progress of the two-week Gemini 7 mission.[43]

After the successful completion of Gemini 7, on January 24, 1966, Collins was assigned to the prime crew of Gemini 10, but with John Young as mission commander, as White moved on to the Apollo program.[44][41] Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin were designated as the backup commander and pilot respectively.[45] The arrangements were disturbed by the deaths of the Gemini 9 crew, Bassett and Elliot See, in the February 28, 1966 NASA T-38 crash. They were replaced on Gemini 9 by their backups, Stafford and Gene Cernan. Cernan thereby became the second of the fourteen to fly in space. Lovell and Aldrin became their backups, and Alan Bean and C. C. Williams took their place as the Gemini 10 backup crew.[46] Collins would become the seventeenth American, and third member of his group, to fly in space.[47]

Training for Gemini 10 was interrupted in March when Slayton diverted Young, Collins and Williams to represent their respective services, the US Navy, USAF and US Marine Corps on a panel to select another group of astronauts, along with himself, Shepard, spacecraft designer Max Faget and astronaut training officer Warren J. North. Young protested the loss of a week's training for Gemini 10 to no avail. Applying strict criteria for age, flying experience and education reduced the number of applicants to just 35. The panel interviewed each for an hour, and rated nineteen as qualified. Collins was surprised when Slayton elected to take them all. Slayton later admitted that he too had doubts; he already had enough astronauts for Project Apollo as far as the first Moon landing, but post-Apollo plans were for up to 30 missions. Such a large intake therefore seemed prudent. Ten of the nineteen had test pilot experience, and seven were graduates of the ARPS.[48][49][50]

Gemini 10[edit]

John Young (left) and Michael Collins aboard the recovery ship

Fifteen scientific experiments were carried on Gemini 10—more than any other Gemini mission except the two-week-long Gemini 7.[51] After Gemini 9's EVA ran into problems, the remaining Gemini objectives had to be completed on the last three flights. While the overall number of objectives increased, the difficulty of Collins' EVA was scaled significantly back. There was no backpack or astronaut maneuvering unit (AMU), as there had been on Gemini 8.[44]

Their three-day mission called for them to rendezvous with two different Agena Target Vehicles, undertake two EVAs, and perform 15 different experiments. The training went smoothly, as the crew learned the intricacies of orbital rendezvous, controlling the Agena and, for Collins, EVA. For what was to be the fourth ever EVA, underwater training was not performed, mostly because Collins did not have the time. To train to use the nitrogen gun he would use for propulsion, a super smooth metal surface about the size of a boxing ring was set up. He would stand on a circular pad that used gas jets to raise itself off the surface. Using the nitrogen gun he would practice propelling himself across the "slippery table".[52]

Gemini 10 lifted off from Launch Complex 19 at Cape Canaveral at 05:20 local time on July 18, 1966. On reaching orbit, it was about 1,600 kilometers (990 mi) behind the Agena target vehicle, which had been launched 100 minutes earlier. A rendezvous was achieved on Gemini 10's fourth orbit at 10:43, followed by docking at 11:13.[53][54] The mission plan called for multiple dockings with the Agena target, but an error by Collins in using the sextant caused them to burn valuable propellant, resulting in mission control calling off this objective to conserve propellant.[55] Once docked, the Agena 10 propulsion system was activated to boost the astronauts to a new altitude record, 764 kilometers (475 mi) above the Earth, breaking the record of 295 miles (475 km) set by Voskhod 2.[56]

Agena Target Docking Vehicle photographed in close proximity of the Gemini 10 spacecraft

A second burn of the Agena 10 engine at 03:58 on July 19 put them into the same orbit as Agena 8, which had been launched for the Gemini 8 mission on March 16. For his first EVA Collins did not leave the Gemini capsule, but stood up through the hatch with an ultraviolet camera.[53] After he took the ultraviolet photos, Collins began taking photos of a plate they brought with them. The plate would be used to calibrate photos taken in space with calibrated equipment in a lab.[57] In his biography he said he felt at that moment like a Roman god riding the skies in his chariot.[58]

The EVA started on the dark side of the Earth so that Collins could take photos of the Milky Way. Collins' and Young's eyes began to tear up, forcing an early end to the EVA.[59] Lithium hydroxide, which was normally used to remove exhaled carbon dioxide from the cabin, had been fed into the astronauts' space suit. The compressor causing the problem was switched off,[60] and a high oxygen flow was used to purge the environmental control system.[53]

Prior to Collins' second EVA, the Agena 10 spacecraft was jettisoned. Young positioned the capsule close enough to Agena 8 for Collins to get to it while attached to his 49-foot (15 m) umbilical. Collins thought it took much longer to complete tasks than he expected, something Cernan had experienced during his spacewalk on Gemini 9. He removed a micro-meteor experiment from the exterior of the spacecraft, and configured his nitrogen maneuvering thruster. Collins had difficulty re-entering the spacecraft, and needed Young to pull him back in with the umbilical.[61]

The duo activated the retro rockets on their 43rd revolution splashed down in the Atlantic at 04:06 on July 21, 3.5 miles (5.6 km) from the recovery vessel, the amphibious assault ship USS Guadalcanal, and were picked up by helicopter and flown to it.[61] Collins and Young completed nearly all of the major objectives of the flight.[62] The docking practice and the landmark measurement experiment were not carried out in order to conserve propellant, and the micrometeorite collector was lost when it drifted out of the spacecraft.[53]

Apollo program[edit]

The backup crew for the second manned Apollo flight. Collins is on the left, and on the right Thomas Stafford blocks the view of Frank Borman

Shortly after Gemini 10, Collins was assigned to the backup crew for the second manned Apollo flight, with Commander (CDR) Borman, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Stafford, and Collins as Lunar Module Pilot (LMP). Along with learning the new Apollo Command/Service Module (CSM) and the Apollo Lunar Module (LM), Collins received helicopter training, as these were thought to be the best way to simulate the landing approach of the LM. After the completion of Project Gemini, it was decided to cancel the Apollo 2 flight, since it would just repeat the Apollo 1 flight. Stafford was given his own crew, and Anders was assigned to Borman's crew. Slayton had decided that an Apollo mission commander should be an experienced astronaut who had already flown a mission, and that on flights with a LM, the CMP should also have some spaceflight experience, something Anders did not yet have, since the CMP would have to fly the CM alone. Collins was therefore moved to the CMP position on the Apollo 8 prime crew, and Anders became the LMP.[63] The practice became that the CMP would be the next most senior member of the crew, and that they would go on to command later Apollo flights.[64]

Staff meetings were always held on Fridays in the Astronaut Office, and it was here that Collins found himself on January 27, 1967. Don Gregory was running the meeting in the absence of Shepard and so it was he who answered the red phone to be informed there was a fire in the Apollo 1 CM, and that the three astronauts, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were dead. When the enormity of the situation was ascertained, it fell on Collins to go the Chaffee household to inform Martha Chaffee that her husband had died. The Astronaut Office had learned to be proactive in informing astronauts' families of a death quickly, because of the death of Theodore Freeman in an aircraft crash in 1964, when a newspaper reporter was the first to his house.[65]

Collins and Scott were sent by NASA to the Paris Air Show in May 1967. There they met cosmonauts Pavel Belyayev and Konstantin Feoktistov, with whom they drank vodka on the Soviets' Tupolev Tu-134. Collins found it interesting that some cosmonauts were doing helicopter training like their American counterparts, and Belyayev said that he hoped to make a circum-lunar flight soon. The astronauts' wives had accompanied them on the trip, and Collins and his wife Pat were compelled by NASA and their friends to travel to Metz where they had been married ten years before. There, they found a third wedding ceremony had been arranged for them (ten years previously they had already had civil and religious ceremonies), so they could renew their vows.[66]

During 1968, Collins noticed that his legs were not working as they should, first during handball games, then as he walked down stairs, his knee would almost give way. His left leg also had unusual sensations when in hot and cold water. Reluctantly he sought medical advice and the diagnosis was a cervical disc herniation, requiring two vertebrae to be fused together.[67] The surgery was performed at Wilford Hall Hospital at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. The planned recuperation time was three to six months.[68] He spent three months in a neck brace. It also removed Collins from the prime crew of Apollo 9 and moved Jim Lovell from its backup crew to the prime crew to replace him as CMP. When the Apollo 8 mission was changed from a CSM/LM mission in high Earth orbit to a CSM-only flight around the Moon, both prime and backup crews for Apollo 8 and 9 swapped places.[69]

Apollo 8[edit]

Having trained for the flight, Collins was made a capsule communicator (CAPCOM), an astronaut stationed at Mission Control responsible for communicating directly with the crew during a mission.[70] As part of the Green Team, he covered the launch phase up to translunar injection, the rocket burn that sent Apollo 8 to the Moon.[71] The successful completion of the first manned circumlunar flight was followed by the announcement of the Apollo 11 crew of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins. At that time in January 1969, it was not certain this would be the lunar landing crew, depending on the success of Apollo 9 and Apollo 10 testing the LM.[72]

Apollo 11[edit]

Collins in the Command Module simulator

As CMP, Collins's training was completely different from the LM and lunar EVA, and was sometimes done without Armstrong or Aldrin being present. Along with simulators, there were size measurements for pressure suits, centrifuge training to simulate the 10 g reentry, and practicing docking with a huge rig at NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia, just to name a few. Since he would be the active participant in the rendezvous with the LM, Collins compiled a book[73] of 18 different rendezvous schemes for different scenarios including where the LM did not land, or launched too early or too late. This book ran for 117 pages.[73]

The famous mission patch of Apollo 11 was the creation of Collins. Jim Lovell, the backup commander, mentioned the idea of eagles, a symbol of the United States. Collins liked the idea and found a painting by artist Walter Weber in a National Geographic book, Water, Prey, and Game Birds of North America,[74] traced it and added the lunar surface below and Earth in the background. The idea of an olive branch, a symbol of peace, came from a computer expert at the simulators. The call sign Columbia for the CSM came from Julian Scheer, the NASA Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs. He mentioned the idea to Collins in a conversation and Collins could not think of anything better.[75][76]

During the training for Apollo 11 Collins told Slayton he did not want to fly again if Apollo 11 was successful. Slayton offered to get him back into the crew sequence after the flight. This happened with the other Apollo missions: Lovell, the CMP on Apollo 8 became commander of Apollo 13; Scott, the CMP on Apollo 9, became commander of Apollo 15; Young, as CMP on Apollo 10, became commander of Apollo 16; and Richard Gordon, the CMP on Apollo 12, was designated commander of the cancelled Apollo 18 mission. Collins would almost certainly have been the backup commander of Apollo 14, followed by commander of Apollo 17. Instead, the assignment was given to Cernan.[64][77][78]

The top of the silvery command module is seen over a grey, cratered lunar surface
Columbia in lunar orbit, photographed from Eagle

An estimated one million spectators watched the launch of Apollo 11 from the highways and beaches in the vicinity of the launch site. The launch was televised live in 33 countries, with an estimated 25 million viewers in the United States alone. Millions more listened to radio broadcasts.[79][80] Propelled by a giant Saturn V rocket, Apollo 11 lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969, at 13:32UTC (9:32 EDT),[81] and entered Earth orbit twelve minutes later. After one and a half orbits, the S-IVB third-stage engine pushed the spacecraft onto its trajectory toward the Moon. About 30 minutes later, Collins performed the transposition, docking, and extraction maneuver. This involved separating Columbia from the spent S-IVB stage, turning around, and docking with Eagle. After it was extracted, the combined spacecraft headed for the Moon, while the rocket stage flew on a trajectory past it.[82]

On July 19 at 17:21:50 UTC, Apollo 11 passed behind the Moon and fired its service propulsion engine to enter lunar orbit.[82] In the thirty orbits that followed,[83] the crew saw passing views of their landing site in the southern Sea of Tranquillity about 12 miles (19 km) southwest of the crater Sabine D.[84] At 12:52:00 UTC on July 20, Aldrin and Armstrong entered Eagle, and began the final preparations for lunar descent. At 17:44:00 Eagle separated from the Columbia.[82] Collins, alone aboard Columbia, inspected Eagle as it pirouetted before him to ensure the craft was not damaged, and that the landing gear was correctly deployed before heading for the surface.[85][86]

During his day flying solo around the Moon, Collins never felt lonely. Although it has been said "not since Adam has any human known such solitude",[87] Collins felt very much a part of the mission. In his autobiography he wrote "this venture has been structured for three men, and I consider my third to be as necessary as either of the other two". During the 48 minutes of each orbit he was out of radio contact with Earth, the feeling he reported was not loneliness, but rather "awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation".[88]

One of Collins' first tasks was to identify the lunar module on the ground. To give Collins an idea where to look, Mission Control radioed that they believed the lunar module landed about four miles off target. Each time he passed over the suspected lunar landing site, he tried in vain to find the lunar module. On his first two orbits on the far side of the Moon, Collins performed maintenance activities such as dumping excess water produced by the fuel cells and preparing the cabin for Armstrong and Aldrin to return.[89] Just before he reached the dark side on the third orbit, Mission Control informed Collins that there was a problem with the temperature of the coolant. If it became too cold, parts of Columbia might freeze. Mission Control advised him to assume manual control and implement Environmental Control System Malfunction Procedure 17. Instead, Collins flicked the switch on the offending system from automatic to manual and back to automatic again, and carried on with normal housekeeping chores, while keeping an eye on the temperature. When Columbia came back around to the near side of the Moon again, he was able to report that the problem had been resolved. For the next couple of orbits, he described his time on the back side of the Moon as "relaxing". After Aldrin and Armstrong completed their EVA, Collins slept so he could be rested for the rendezvous. While the flight plan called for Eagle to meet up with Columbia, Collins was prepared for certain contingencies in which he would fly Columbia down to meet Eagle.[90]

After spending so much time with the CSM, Collins felt compelled to leave his mark on it, so during the second night following their return from the Moon, he went to the lower equipment bay of the CM and wrote:

"Spacecraft 107 — alias Apollo 11 — alias Columbia. The best ship to come down the line. God Bless Her. Michael Collins, CMP"[91]
Collins sits in the hatch of Apollo 11 Command Module after its return to the MSC's Lunar Receiving Laboratory for detailed examination

In a July 2009 interview with The Guardian, Collins revealed he was very worried about Armstrong and Aldrin's safety. He was also concerned in the event of their deaths on the Moon, he would be forced to return to Earth alone and, as the mission's sole survivor, be regarded as "a marked man for life".[92]

At 17:54 UTC on July 21, Eagle lifted off from the Moon to rejoin Collins aboard Columbia in lunar orbit.[82] After rendezvous with Columbia, the ascent stage was jettisoned into lunar orbit, and Columbia made its way back to Earth.[93]

Columbia splashed down in the Pacific 2,660 km (1,440 nmi) east of Wake Island at 16:50 UTC (05:50 local time) on July 24.[82][94] The total mission duration was 195:18:35.[95] Divers passed biological isolation garments (BIGs) to the astronauts, and assisted them into the life raft. Though the chance of bringing back pathogens from the lunar surface was believed to be remote, it was still considered a possibility. The astronauts were winched on board the recovery helicopter, and flown to the aircraft carrier USS Hornet,[96] where they spent the first part of Earth-based portion of 21 days of quarantine before moving on to Houston.[97]

On August 13, the three astronauts rode in parades in their honor in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.[98][99] On the same evening in Los Angeles there was an official state dinner to celebrate the flight, attended by members of Congress, 44 governors, the Chief Justice of the United States, and ambassadors from 83 nations at the Century Plaza Hotel.[99] This celebration was the beginning of a 45-day "Giant Leap" tour that brought the astronauts to 25 foreign countries and included visits with prominent leaders such as Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.[100] Many nations honored the first human Moon landing with special features in magazines or by issuing Apollo 11 commemorative postage stamps or coins.[101]

Post-NASA activities[edit]

Portrait of the top half of an older, bald, and tanned Collins, seen wearing glasses and a black polo
Collins, February 2009

Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs[edit]

NASA Administrator Thomas O. Paine had told Collins that Secretary of State William P. Rogers was interested in appointing Collins to the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. After the crew returned to the U.S. in November, Collins sat down with Rogers and accepted the position on the urgings of President Richard Nixon.[102] He was an unusual choice for the role, as he was neither a journalist nor a career diplomat. Nor, unlike some of his predecessors, did he act as the department spokesperson. Instead, as the head of the State Department's Bureau of Public Affairs, his role was that of managing relations with the public at large. He had a staff of 115 and a budget of $2.5 million,[103] but this was tiny compared with the 6,000 public affairs staff at the United States Department of Defense.[104]

Collins took over at a very difficult time. The Vietnam War was going badly, and the invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State shootings triggered a wave of protest and unrest across the country. He had no illusions about his ability to change minds, but attempted to engage with the public all the same, playing on his Apollo 11 fame.[104] He attributed part of the nation's problems to insularity. In a 1970 commencement speech at Saint Michael's College in Vermont, he told his audience that "Farmers speak to farmers, students to students, business leaders to other business leaders, but this intramural talk serves mainly to mirror one's beliefs, to reinforce existing prejudices, to lock out opposing views".[105]

Eventually, Collins came to realize that he was not enjoying the job, and when an opportunity arose that was a better fit for his skills, he secured President Nixon's permission to change jobs. His departure was officially announced on February 22, 1971.[106] He worked in that role until April 11, 1971.[107] Carol Laise replaced him in October 1973.[108][109]

Director of the National Air and Space Museum[edit]

The new position was as director of the National Air and Space Museum.[110] After World War II ended in August 1945, the Chief of United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), General of the Army Henry H. Arnold, took steps to preserve the history of the Army Air Forces. He was instrumental in the creation, on February 4, 1946, of the Air Force Association (AFA), an advocacy group for Air Force people and airpower.[111][112]

The Milestones of Flight entrance hall of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Among the visible aircraft is the Apollo 11 command module

The AFA lobbied Congress to create a National Air Museum, to be administered by the Smithsonian Institution, and located on the National Mall in Washington, DC, where it would stand as a reminder of the importance of airpower.[113] Congress passed an authorization bill on August 12, 1946, which described the functions of the museum:

Said national air museum shall memorialize the national development of aviation; collect, preserve, and display aeronautical equipment of historical interest and significance; serve as a repository for scientific equipment and data pertaining to the development of aviation; and provide educational material for the historical study of aviation.[114]

Under the US legislative system, authorization is insufficient; Congress also has to pass an appropriation bill allocating funding. Since this was not done, there was no money for the museum building.[115] The 1957 Sputnik crisis and the resulting Space Race led to a surge of public interest in space exploration. The Freedom 7 and Friendship 7 Project Mercury spacecraft were donated to the Smithsonian, and 2,670,000 visitors descended on the Arts and Industries Building when they were put on display in 1963. Anderson and Representative Clarence Cannon, both members of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian, introduced legislation in February and March 1964 to rename the museum the National Air and Space Museum, expanding its scope to include space. Their bill failed to reach a vote in 1964, and died in committee when introduced in 1965, but was passed in 1966.[116] Requests in the budgets for 1968, 1969 and 1970 were denied.[116]

Columbia at the National Air and Space Museum

Apollo 11 created another surge of interest in space. An exhibition of a moon rock attracted 200,000 visitors in one month.[117] On May 19, 1970, Senator Barry Goldwater, a USAF general, gave an impassioned speech in the Senate calling for funding for a museum building.[118] This was the sort of challenge that Collins was well-suited for. His background as an astronaut and an air force officer made him a good fit. Moreover, the job had a clearly defined and tangible goal: to obtain Congressional funding, and to build the museum.[104] With the help of Goldwater in particular, Congress relented, and on August 10, 1972, approved $13 million and contract authority of $27 million for its construction.[119]

Ground was broken on the new museum on November 20, 1972,[120] and it opened four days ahead of schedule on July 1, 1976 as part of celebrations of the United States Bicentennial.[121] Over one million visitors passed through its doors in the first month, and it quickly established itself as one of the world's most popular museums, averaging between eight and nine million visitors per annum over the next two decades. Visitors saw Columbia in the main hall, Milestones of Flight, along with the Wright Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis and Glamorous Glennis.[122]

Collins held the directorship until 1978,[110] when he stepped down to become undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution.[123] During this time, although no longer an active-duty USAF officer after he joined the State Department in 1970, he remained in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. He attained the rank of major general in 1976, and retired in 1982.[124]

Other activities[edit]

Collins, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at a memorial service for Neil Armstrong in 2012

Collins completed the Harvard Business School's Advanced Management Program in 1974, and in 1980 became Vice President of LTV Aerospace in Arlington, Virginia. He resigned in 1985 to start his own consulting firm, Michael Collins Associates.[125] He wrote an autobiography in 1974 entitled Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys. The New York Times writer John Wilford wrote that it is "generally regarded as the best account of what it is like to be an astronaut."[126]

Collins has also written Liftoff: The Story of America's Adventure in Space (1988), a history of the American space program, Mission to Mars (1990), a non-fiction book on human spaceflight to Mars, and Flying to the Moon and Other Strange Places (1976), revised and re-released as Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut's Story (1994), a children's book on his experiences. Along with his writing, he has painted watercolors mostly relating to the Florida Everglades, or aircraft that he flew; they are rarely space-related.[127] Until recently he did not sign his paintings to avoid them increasing in price just because they had his autograph on them.[128]

He lived with his wife, Pat, in Marco Island, Florida and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.[129]

Honors and awards[edit]

A circular golden medal. Along the bottom is a curved section of Earth showing North America. Above is a three-quarter view portrait of Glenn, in front of an astronaut saluting the U.S. flag on the lunar surface. Above them are the heroic near-profile portraits of the three Apollo 11 crew. Around the outside in capital letters it says "John Glenn ⋅ Neil Armstrong ⋅ Michael Collins ⋅ Buzz Aldrin". At bottom right are the initials "PH".
Congressional Gold Medal, with Apollo 11 crew and John Glenn inscribed

Collins was a long-time trustee of the National Geographic Society and presently serves as Trustee Emeritus.[126] He is also a fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.[130][131]

Collins was inducted into three halls of fame: the International Space Hall of Fame (1977),[132] the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame (1993),[1] and the National Aviation Hall of Fame (1985). In 2008 he was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor in Lancaster, California.[133] The International Astronomical Union honored him by naming an asteroid after him, 6471 Collins.[132] Also, like the other two Apollo 11 crew members, he has a lunar crater named after him.[134]

He was awarded the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross in 1966 for his work in the Gemini Project.[135] He was also awarded Air Force Command Pilot Astronaut Wings.[130] Deputy NASA Administrator Robert Seamans pinned the NASA Exceptional Service Medal on Collins and Young in 1966 for their role in the Gemini 10 mission.[136] For the Apollo Project, he was awarded the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal,[137] and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.[138] He was awarded the Legion of Merit in 1977.[125]

Collins during the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in the Rotunda at the U.S. Capitol on November 16, 2011

Along with the rest of the Apollo 11 crew, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Nixon in 1969 at the state dinner in their honor.[99][139] The three were awarded the Collier Trophy in 1969. The National Aeronautic Association president awarded a duplicate trophy to Collins and Aldrin at a ceremony.[140][141] The trio received the international Harmon Trophy for aviators in 1970,[142][143] conferred to them by Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1971.[144] Agnew also presented them the Hubbard Medal of the National Geographic Society in 1970. He told them, "You've won a place alongside Christopher Columbus in American history".[145]

Collins also received the Iven C. Kincheloe Award from the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP) in 1970,[146][147] and was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame in 1971.[148] In 1989, some of his personal papers were transferred to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.[125] In 1999, while celebrating the 30th anniversary of the lunar landing, Vice President Al Gore, who was also the vice chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution's Board of Regents, presented the Apollo 11 crew with the Smithsonian's Langley Gold Medal for aviation. After the ceremony, the crew went to the White House and presented President Bill Clinton with an encased Moon rock.[149][150]

The crew was awarded the New Frontier Congressional Gold Medal in the Capitol Rotunda in 2011. During the ceremony, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said, "Those of us who have had the privilege to fly in space followed the trail they forged."[123][151]

In popular culture[edit]

Collins is one of the astronauts featured in the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon.[152] He had a small part as "Old Man" in the 2009 movie, Youth in Revolt.[153] In the 1996 TV movie Apollo 11, he was played by Jim Metzler,[154] and in the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, he was played by Cary Elwes.[155] In the 2009 TV movie Moon Shot, he was played by Andrew Lincoln.[156] For contributions to the television industry, the Apollo 11 astronauts were honored with round plaques on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[157]

English rock group Jethro Tull has a song "For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me", which appears on the Benefit album from 1970. The song compares the feelings of misfitting from vocalist Ian Anderson (and friend Jeffrey Hammond) with the astronaut's own, as he is left behind by the ones who had the privilege of walking on the surface of the Moon.[158] In 2013, indie pop group The Boy Least Likely To released the song "Michael Collins" on the album The Great Perhaps. The song uses Collins' feeling that he was blessed to have the type of solitude of being truly separated from all other human contact in contrast with modern society's lack of perspective.[159][160] American folk artist John Craigie recorded a song titled "Michael Collins" for his 2017 album No Rain, No Rose. The song embraces his role as an integral part of the Apollo 11 mission with the chorus, "Sometimes you take the fame, sometimes you sit back stage, but if it weren't for me them boys would still be there."[161] In the 2018 film First Man, he was portrayed by Lukas Haas.[162]


  • Collins, Michael (1976). Flying to the Moon and Other Strange Places. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Collins, Michael (1988). Liftoff: The Story of America's Adventure in Space. Illustrated by James Dean. New York: Grove Press.
  • Collins, Michael (1989). Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
  • Collins, Michael (1990). Mission to Mars. New York: Grove Weidenfeld.
  • Collins, Michael (1994). Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut's Story. Sunburst.


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Further reading[edit]

  • Uusma, Bea (2003). The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon: The Story of Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins. Carmel, California: Hampton-Brown. ISBN 978-0-7362-2789-6.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Dixon Donnelley
Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs
January 6, 1970 – April 11, 1971
Succeeded by
Carol Laise