By Amanda Curtis, Staff Reporter
“At night, when I’m walking along and thinking, and there’s this sort of glare over my shoulder- ‘Oh, that’s the moon! I’ve been there.’ It truly takes me by surprise,” said Astronaut Michael Collins
Collins, joined by fellow Apollo astronaut Joe Engle, were the featured guests at the Experimental Aircraft Association fly-in convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Friday, July 26 at Theatre in the Woods. EAA AirVenture 2019 commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission that landed the first men on the moon and returned them safely.
The first human steps on the moon were of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and without the right command module pilot, those steps never would have made history. Collins was that pilot.
Before his time orbiting the moon, Collins graduated from West Point College, was a two-star Air Force general, became a pilot, then a test pilot. “This was all a good introduction to becoming an astronaut,” he recalled. Collins is the first person to perform an extra-vehicular activity, and the first to do it more than once.
While Armstrong and Aldrin experienced their boots connecting with the moon’s surface, Collins orbited the moon, alone, for over 21 hours. For 48 minutes of each hour, he was completely alone in absolute silence, no radio contact with Earth, Buzz or Neil. When asked if he felt lonely during this time, though, he responded with, “It gave me time away from the control center telling me things. I enjoyed the quiet.” Most of the time, he spent recording notes of his inner thoughts and worries, like if his crew mates would be able to return.
They did, thankfully, and “it was one of the most moving moments of my life,” said Collins.
In today’s society where conspiracy theories run wild and become truth without validation, many people believe that moon landing never happened. When asked his thoughts and/or response to the naysayers, he responded with, “It makes me laugh. I guess I probably should be upset about it, since I risked my life and trained so hard to get there. But, I just laugh, because I know we went. They can prove the Saturn V rocket launched, of course, but that’s about where it ends. Some believe the photos were taken in some secret studio, some believe the props were set up in the Nevada desert. There are many theories, but just one truth. The three of us went to the moon.
Upon returning to earth, the astronauts were ordered to stay in quarantine. “We were locked up in quaranting with 30 or 40 white mice, because they thought they had some disease from the moon,” recalled Collins. “Our success depended on the white mice. The thinking was, if the mice died, the astronauts had probably carried back some sort of deadly contagion.”
The mice survived the quarantine, as did the astronauts, making the Apollo 11 mission an official, all-around success.
When asked if he would ever like to return to the moon someday, Collins replied, “Some people, like Armstrong, are lifetime astronauts. I am not one of those. I went, I saw, I accomplished, and now I paint watercolors and speak about my experiences in the NASA program. I am not interested in returning to the moon.
“We’ve already been to the moon. I believe we need to go direct to Mars: the JFK Mars Express.
“And, actually, I was in the White House 415 days ago, and Trump listened as I explained the energy it took to get to the moon the first time. The Apollo program enjoyed a mandate from the JFK, the President of the United States, that was a masterpiece of simplicity: get a man on the moon by the end of the decade. That was the sort of intensity we needed worldwide before we set sail.”
That intensity still holds true today as Collins recalls, “While on the Apollo 11 goodwill tour, we heard people yelling all throughout the country, ‘We did it! We, human beings, left the surface of the earth!’ I don’t know of any event in my 88 years where there was global unanimity on anything. Humans walking on the moon united us all.”
Returning to the moon is in the works at NASA today. Artemis, named after the twin sister of Greek mythology’s Apollo, seeks to put the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024.
Also, here is footage of the Historic Apollo 11 Moon Landing