Remembering Astronaut Michael Collins NPR's Scott Simon remembers Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who appeared on this program two years ago.
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Remembering Astronaut Michael Collins

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Remembering Astronaut Michael Collins

Remembering Astronaut Michael Collins

Remembering Astronaut Michael Collins

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NPR's Scott Simon remembers Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who appeared on this program two years ago.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Let's take a moment now to remember Michael Collins.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NEIL ARMSTRONG: Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

SIMON: Michael Collins was the man they left behind to circle the moon in command of the Apollo 11 spacecraft while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took humankind's first steps on the lunar surface. Commentators at the time said no other human being since Adam had ever been so profoundly alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MICHAEL COLLINS: Weren't you the loneliest person in the whole lonely history of the lonely Earth? And in a lonely orbit behind the back of the lonely Earth, weren't you lonely? And I thought, no, not in any way, shape or form.

SIMON: (Laughter).

COLLINS: I mean, loneliness - some people are lonely for a lifetime or a month or a year. I mean, for eight days to and from, I don't think loneliness really comes into the equation, except it seemed to in the minds of the press of the time.

SIMON: We got to meet Michael Collins in July of 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. He was 88 years old - charming, dapper, funny and reflective. He said the real revelation of the mission for him was less to behold the moon but our own blue home in the dark of the solar system.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

COLLINS: 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, the moon was nothing compared to the Earth. The Earth was it. It was a whole show. And the first thing, of course, is it's just tiny, tiny against the black velvet background which makes it look more prominent. And you get the very bright colors, the blue of the ocean, the white of the clouds.

SIMON: Yeah.

COLLINS: You get a little smear of rust that we call continents. Put all that together, and it's just a glorious thing. You can just sit and watch it all day long...

SIMON: Wow.

COLLINS: ...Out your window. I could just have spent day after day, week after week, looking at the tiny little Earth.

SIMON: Michael Collins left the space program after his mission around the moon. He wrote a bestselling memoir, became an assistant secretary of state for public affairs and then director of the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SIMON: I get one last question.

COLLINS: OK.

SIMON: Why should we go into space?

COLLINS: Why?

SIMON: Yeah.

COLLINS: When someone asks me why we should go into space, I desert the world of facts and figures and come down in the world of emotions. When I was a kid, I just liked to lie on my back on the night grass and look up and see what I could see. Most of it I couldn't understand. That made it all the more intriguing. But to have that around me, I guess I could turn that over and say, I don't want to live with a lid over my head. I would like that lid to be removed. I would like to have the possibilities that exist there in that third dimension and that we have the possibility now of visiting a lot of them. That's why we should go into space, I believe.

(SOUNDBITE OF JONATHAN KING SONG, "EVERYONE'S GONE TO THE MOON")

SIMON: Michael Collins, the man who circled the moon, died this week at the age of 90.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYONE'S GONE TO THE MOON")

JONATHAN KING: (Singing) Streets full of people all alone. Roads full of houses, never home. Church full of singing out of tune. Everyone's gone to the moon.

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