17 Things You Didn't Know About Astronaut Michael Collins
Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins was one of those American heroes whose name you never remember. He was on the first moon landing mission, but Collins was actually most famous for what he didn't do: He never walked on the moon. He flew 250,000 miles to the moon on Apollo 11 but never set foot on the satellite. On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Eagle on the lunar surface, the third member of their crew, Collins, was all alone, orbiting the moon in the Columbia, their command module.
He was part of the most famous space mission of all time, and a crucial part of one of humanity's most monumental achievements, yet most Americans don't know who Michael Collins was. This list is full of trivia and facts about Collins, all of which are reminders of just how unstoppably awesome Collins was and always will be.
This list is jam-packed with surprising information that will make you rethink a guy you've probably never given enough thought. Most people imagine Collins was bitter about not traipsing on the moon, but did you know that he actually turned down the chance to explore the lunar surface on a later Apollo mission? Or that he was one of the driving forces behind the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum, one of the single most popular museums in the world?
Michael Collins, who passed April 28, 2021, at age 90, may be remembered forever as the Apollo 11 astronaut who got the short end of the stick, but he was so much more than that, and this list proves it. Read on for trivia about the space explorer, pilot, and all-American guy who was so cool he didn't even need to walk on the moon.
- Photo: NASA, scanned by NASA Johnson / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
He Wasn't The Lonely Voyager Everyone Assumed
While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were on the moon, TV news anchors all over the world described Collins as the loneliest man in human history, since he was all by himself in the Command Module Columbia, 69 miles above the far side of the moon.
He wasn't lonely, though. He was aware of his isolation and later wrote in his book Carrying the Fire, "I feel this powerfully - not as fear or loneliness - but as awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation. I like the feeling."
- Photo: NASA/Buzz Aldrin / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
He Missed Neil Armstrong's Famous 'One Small Step For Man' Moment
When Neil Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the lunar surface, Michael Collins wasn't one of the 600 million people who heard him declare, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." The timing just didn't work out.
As Armstrong was exiting the lander, Collins's orbit took his command module behind the far side of the moon, cutting off his radio communications. By the time he was back in touch, Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were already putting up an American flag, with the world watching.
- Photo: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
He Had To Go Through Customs When He Returned From The Moon
All three Apollo 11 astronauts filled out customs forms at the Honolulu Airport after returning from their mission on July 24, 1969.
What did they declare after splashing down in the Pacific Ocean? A cargo of moon rocks, moon dust, and lunar samples.
- Photo: Nathan Rupert / Flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
He Was Responsible For The National Air & Space Museum Being Awesome
Collins was the first director of the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum, overseeing both the design and the construction of the main building in Washington, DC. Under his leadership, the museum opened ahead of schedule and under budget in 1976, drawing more than 10 million visitors in its first year.
To this day, it remains one of the most popular museums of any kind in the world.
- Photo: NASA / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
He Was Really Worried About Returning Alone
While he orbited the moon alone in the command module, Michael Collins knew that he'd live in notoriety if Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin didn't survive the trip.
"My secret terror for the last six months has been leaving them on the moon and returning to Earth alone, " he wrote later in Carrying the Fire. "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."
He Was The Only Person Alive Not Pictured In A Famous Image
Collins took this photo of the Eagle as it ascended from the moon to rendezvous with him on the command module Columbia.
His fellow astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were aboard the lunar module in the foreground, with about 4 billion people behind them on Earth, in the background.