As the big anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission approached, Collins was bombarded with requests for interviews, appearances, and other ceremonial events.
Tonight's sky — select location
Similar solicitations came at the last ificant milestone, and the one before that, and the one before that. And this anniversary might be the most intense yet. Collins never set foot on the moon. While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin maneuvered the lunar module to the surfaceCollins remained in orbit, manning the command module. Collins circled the moon, completely alone, for more than a day.
He listened as his fellow astronauts walked around the jagged terrain in their puffy white suits, unpacked science instruments, and scooped rocks into boxes. The views were stunning all around. But for Collins, the finest sight was the lunar module returning, a small dot moving in the distance, a speck of black against the gleaming gray.
Soon Neil and Buzz would be back inside. They could all go home. Read: What John F. Collins is 88 now. He never flew to space again after Apollo 11, instead moving on to jobs with shorter commutes.
But when I do, it comes back with a great deal of clarity, more than I would have guessed. Collins ed NASA as an astronaut injust five years after the agency was established. He was a young pilot, with three children under the age of 5.
He had been a military brat, born in Rome, where his father, a U. Army officer, was stationed. The agency tested complex spacecraft maneuvers in orbit around Earth. It flew astronauts around the moon and back.
One crew even descended toward the surface in a lander, but it returned to the command module before touching down. The agency lost three astronauts, killed in a fire during a launch rehearsal on the ground, but engineers pressed on to meet John F.
By the summer ofthe only thing left to do was stick the landing. Collins spent months training for the delicate particulars of the Apollo 11 mission. Collins was under a different kind of pressure than the other astronauts: He was their only ride home. The crew would arrive at the moon together.
Armstrong and Aldrin would travel to and from the surface in a lander, and Collins, in the command module, would release and recapture them. If something went wrong in these delicate maneuvers, the moonwalkers would be stranded. There were tests to run, and systems to check. Of course it would have been better to be on the ground, he says. But in case any future moon tourists are wondering, the view from orbit was satisfying enough.
For the rest of us, the moon will always be a flat, two-dimensional coin of light in the darkness. Collins and the other Apollo astronauts experienced it as it truly is, a ball suspended in nothingness, curved by light and shadow.
This is the part of the mission, the hours of isolation, that journalists always ask Collins about. What was it like to be so alone?
Pilot of spacecraft returned his moonwalking crewmates neil armstrong and buzz aldrin back to earth
To be on one side of the moon while the rest of humankind breathed on another? His answer is always the same: He felt the solitude deeply, but he was just fine. There was something pleasant about being alone after a few days crammed in with two other people. Before the launch, Armstrong and Aldrin got into a tense discussion one night in their crew quarters at Cape Canaveral.
Armstrong had crashed the Eagle lander in a simulation earlier in the day, killing himself and Aldrin. The real maneuver was less than a month away. As the men argued, Collins gave thanks for the sole companion he would have in his module: the computer. After the Apollo 11 crew returned to Earth, they no longer belonged only to themselves.
They were American heroes, and as such, they had yet another job to do. The crew embarked on a worldwide tour, starting with a ticker-tape parade in New York City that brought out 4 million people for whom these men were no longer human, but heroes. They traveled to 28 cities in 25 countries in 38 days, shaking hands with well-wishers—including the queen of England—until their fingers nearly fell off.
Read: What will the moon landing mean to the future? The script changed little over the years.
Tonight's sky — change location
From Armstrong, who died ineveryone wanted to know what it meant to be the first man on the moon. From Aldrin, who is 89 now, they wanted to know what it felt like to be second, a question that stung. And from Collins, they wanted to know what it was like to be so alone. The irritation is warranted.
Reporters are a nosy and incessant bunch, especially when our sources are astronauts. As soon as the Apollo 11 astronauts splashed down in their capsule in the Pacific Ocean, they became national treasures.
But Collins might be glad you asked. It was the Pacific Ocean, not the Atlantic. Popular Latest.
The Atlantic Crossword. In Subscribe.