Michael Collins

July 7th, 2019

On being left behind

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Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin crewed the famous Apollo 11 mission to the moon.

Back when I was in kindergarten, I felt bad for Michael Collins. The other guys on his team got to do the most amazing thing humans had ever done. Yet Michael, who went along with them, didn’t get to do it. I asked my dad if Michael felt bad, but he assured me Michael was just fine.

Up until now, I purposely haven’t looked up what Michael was feeling at that time when he had to stay in the background. But the internet says maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad for him. Let’s see, his daughter was an actress on All My Children. He was an Undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution. And oh yeah, he also flew two missions into space!

So grown-up me shouldn’t feel bad that while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were making history by walking on the moon 50 years ago, Michael Collins stayed back in the Apollo 11 Command Module orbiting high above them.

At the time, Mission Control said, “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.”

Wow, I always thought he came so darn close to doing the coolest thing ever witnessed on earth, or in the heavens, just to be held back by duty and responsibility.

According to his biography, though, I wasn’t even close to the truth. He loved the time alone up in space — out of radio contact — and in solitude on the dark side of the moon, which he orbited 30 times. He says he always felt an integral part of the team and that there was a sense of exultation while alone up in space.

Hmmm, perhaps my dad was right after all.

But I wasn’t the only one who thought “poor Michael.” The rock group Jethro Tull wrote a song about Michael Collins being left behind and compared it to the lead singer’s own feelings of isolation.

In a speech to Congress, Collins once said, “We cannot launch our planetary probes from a springboard of poverty, discrimination, or unrest.” So he, it appears, was hoping for a world not unlike my father’s early social justice warrior views.

Seeing Michael Collins now not as a third wheel or an also ran, but as a lucky, intelligent, talented individual makes it a lot harder to feel sorry for him. My past empathy for the guy is quickly being transformed into admiration.

I applaud the man, the astronaut, the hero — born on Halloween, 1930 and still walking the earth today.

And even though my father has lifted off from this planet, I also applaud him for being right about Michael. Both men are great examples to follow.

Fifty years ago this month:

On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 was launched from Kennedy Space Center.

On July 20, 1969, the Eagle landed on the moon.


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