Michael Collins’ candid Apollo 11 Moon landing admission: ‘Don’t want it over my head’

Apollo 11: Michael Collins reveals in 2019 why he went to space

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The legendary astronaut passed away peacefully yesterday, aged 90, following a “valiant battle with cancer”. He played a pivotal role in the first manned mission to the Moon, Apollo 11, in 1969. Collins, who dubbed himself “the loneliest man in the universe” stayed in lunar orbit for 21 hours alone as his colleagues Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the lunar surface.

But in an interview with NPR 50 years on, Collins said he was not resentful for missing out on the chance to walk on the extraterrestrial body.

Asked if he would have liked the opportunity, he said in 2019: “Absolutely, yes, but am I dissatisfied with the part that I played? Absolutely not.

“I had it both ways really.

“Sometimes I’ll be walking down, shuffling down the sidewalk after dark and all of a sudden I’ll look up and go ‘woah – I went there one time’.

“It takes me by surprise.”

Despite this, the former test pilot said the entire experience changed his perspective on Earth, and life as we know it.

He added: “I usually get asked what the Moon looked like up close and that’s an interesting question with a lot of good answers, but to me, even though I was sitting on its front doorstep, it was nothing compared to Earth.

“The Earth was the whole show, even though it was only the size of your thumbnail, you could move your thumb out of the way, but it kept inching its way back into your presence as if it wanted to be looked at and seen.

“The first thing is that it was just tiny, tiny against the black velvet background that makes it look more prominent, it’s just a glorious thing, you could sit and watch it all day long.

“I could have spent day after day looking at the tiny little Earth.”

In a touching moment, Collins explained why he wanted space agencies like NASA to press on and explore more of the cosmos.

He continued: “When someone asks me why we should go into space, I desert the world of facts and figures and come down to the world of emotions.

“When I was a kid, I used to lay on my back on the grass at night and see what I could see – most of it I couldn’t understand – that made it all the more intriguing.

“But to have all that around me, I guess I could say I don’t want to live with the lid over my head.

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“I want to have that lid removed and have the possibilities that live there in that third dimension – that we have the possibility of visiting – explored.

“That’s why we should go into space.”

Aldrin, 91, is now the only surviving member of the mission after Armstrong passed away in 2012.

Paying tribute to his colleague, Aldrin wrote in a tweet: “Dear Mike, Wherever you have been or will be, you will always have the fire to carry us deftly to new heights and to the future.

“We will miss you. May you Rest In Peace.”

The Collins family remembered the hero, too.

Their statement read: “Mike always faced the challenges of life with grace and humility, and faced this, his final challenge, the same way”.

“We will miss him terribly. Yet we also know how lucky Mike felt to have lived the life he did.

“We will honour his wish for us to celebrate, not mourn, that life.”

On 16 July 1969, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were strapped into their Apollo spacecraft on top of the vast Saturn V rocket and were propelled into orbit in just over 11 minutes.

Four days later, Armstrong and Aldrin touched down at Tranquility Base.

Armstrong stepped off the lunar lander and delivered his “one small step” speech before Aldrin joined him 20 minutes later and helped bury the US flag into the surface.

As a trio, they brought an end to the Space Race – a bitter chapter in the Cold War that would propel the US and Soviet Union to new technological heights.

Collins would later admit they “felt the weight of the world on their shoulders,” adding that there would be “international repercussions” if he returned to Earth without Aldrin and Armstrong.

He stated: “I was going to come home and I would not have been a happy returnee, I’d be a marked man for the rest of my life.”

But they did make it back, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24 – precisely 195 hours and 18 minutes after blasting off from Florida.

The astronauts would then embark on a 38-day world tour that saw them treated like royalty in 22 foreign countries.

But Collins would later admit he never really enjoyed the spotlight.

Speaking in 2009, he said: “Some things about current society irritate me, such as the adulation of celebrities and the inflation of heroism.

“Heroes abound, and should be revered as such, but don’t count astronauts among them.

“We work very hard, we did our jobs to near perfection, but that was what we had hired on to do.

“In no way did we meet the criterion of the Congressional Medal of Honour: ‘above and beyond the call of duty.’

“Celebrities? What nonsense, what an empty concept for a person to be, as my friend the great historian Daniel Boorstin put it, ‘known for his well-known-ness.’”

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