The Unseen Story

Michael Collins, the pilot of the Apollo 11 Command Module, created a book of 18 different rendezvous schemes for the Command and Lunar Modules, covering every possible scenario, including early / late launch and failed landing. His book ran 117 pages. Although absent from many of the photos of the lunar landing, Collins’ experience, planning, and ability to hold up mentally as he orbited the moon alone, waiting to determine the fate of Aldrin and Armstrong were crucial to the success of the mission. He also happens to be the guy who came up with the famous mission patch of Apollo 11.

An experienced Air Force test pilot, Collins was not selected as part of the first or even the second group of astronaut applicants to NASA. A group-3 applicant, he was a member of the backup crew for Gemini 7 and the flight crew for Gemini 10. He was the first person to complete multiple extra-vehicular activities (EVAs, or “space walks”). Prior to Apollo 11, Collins had undergone back surgery and been sidelined for three months and unsure if he’d venture into space again.

Apollo 11 was his last space flight, and Collins held the ultimate responsibility for safely getting the crew to the moon and back to Earth. His biggest fear was that he would have to abandon the crew on the surface of the moon. They had an estimated 50% chance of a successful trip.

Still alive today, Collins’ 1974 autobiography is regarded as the best account of what it’s like to be an astronaut. In it, Collins wrote that while he was cautioned that his daylong solo flight around the moon would be lonely, instead he felt “awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation.”