Remembering the legacy of a hero

Michael Collins never had the opportunity to walk on the moon, but his legacy will forever be a part of the golden era of the space age.

Collins, who died Wednesday at the age of 94, served as the command module pilot on Apollo 11, the mission that saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin make the first manned lunar landing on July 20, 1969.

While Armstrong, a native of Wapakoneta, and Aldrin had the opportunity to explore and fulfill the challenge President John F. Kennedy had made in the early 1960s to land men on the moon by the end of that decade, Collins was alone, in orbit just a little more than 60 miles from the surface. It was a period that lasted just 28 hours before he docked the Columbia with the lunar lander Eagle so the three could begin their return journey to Earth.

The right stuff? Collins had it. A 1952 graduate of West Point, he later joined the Air Force, where he became a fighter pilot and a test pilot. His inspiration to join NASA came when another Ohioan, the late John Glenn who grew up in New Concord, became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962. After flying on Gemini 10 in 1966 — when he lost a camera during a space walk — Collins was named on Jan. 9, 1969, as a member of the Apollo 11 crew.

By Collins’ admission, the three were all business and never developed the same sense of camaraderie as other crews did, but that certainly was understandable — they often felt they were carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.

And while none of the three ever returned to space, Collins maintained his passion for flight, helping to lead the team that would plan and open the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution — which houses the command module from that flight along with many of the items he took into space.

The death of Collins leaves Aldrin as the only surviving member of the Apollo 11 mission — Armstrong died in 2012 — but their efforts have helped set the stage for the exciting era of space travel and exploration we are poised to enter. Those plans include a return to the moon, with a crew that will include the first woman to visit the lunar surface, and the very real possibility of a voyage that will see a human land on Mars.

Aldrin’s words after learning of the death of his crewmate provide a fitting tribute to that legacy:

“Wherever you have been or will be, you will always have the fire to carry us deftly to new heights and to the future.”


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