If you’ve turned on the TV or radio in the last few days, you will have heard something about yesterday being the 40th anniversary of the 1969 Apollo moon landing. This historic event made Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin household names and legends in their time.
But if you know much about the Apollo landing, you’ll know that there was a third guy who didn’t get to walk on the moon. He stayed in the Command Module which orbited the moon while his colleagues landed and made history there. His name, if you don’t know, was Michael Collins.
Michael Collins sat alone in the Apollo command module, so close to the moon, but for the sake of the mission and the sake of his fellow astronauts he remained there, playing a critical supporting role to the men who would make history and capture the imagination of the world.
Michael Collins didn’t get to take any giant leaps in front of a worldwide audience, place any commemorative plaques for all humankind, or tap an American flag into the shallow sand of the moon’s surface. Instead, he monitored critical systems in partial radio silence and awaited the return and complex docking procedure of his fellow astronauts.
He is often asked if he felt lonely or shut out from the mission, and to this he responds:
Far from feeling lonely or abandoned, I feel very much a part of what is taking place on the lunar surface. I know that I would be a liar or a fool if I said that I have the best of the three Apollo 11 seats, but I can say with truth and equanimity that I am perfectly satisfied with the one I have. This venture has been structured for three men, and I consider my third to be as necessary as either of the other two. I don’t mean to deny a feeling of solitude. It is there, reinforced by the fact that radio contact with the Earth abruptly cuts off at the instant I disappear behind the moon, I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what on this side.
Thank the dear Lord for people like Michael Collins.
There have been many “Michael Collins” in my life; people who I simply couldn’t have been successful without. Their roles are often unglamorous and unnoticed. They rarely get the accolades they deserve and often go on serving those around them year after year, content to live with the satisfaction of knowing what they have accomplished, even if they weren’t the figurehead.
On the shoulders of such great people I have accomplished a few important things in my life. They know who they are. Some of them read this blog, but many of them don’t. All have been incredible.
One interesting thing, though, is that you never quite know when your “Collins” moment might come! Indeed, the secret to attaining new heights is that once you are steadied on the shoulder of your “Collins”, to lock yourself in and then allow someone else to climb up on your shoulders: be someone else’s “Collins.”
Going back to the contemporary Collins, when he was asked what were the most critical problems facing our society, he said they included, “the adulation of celebrities and the inflation of heroism”.
When asked if he considered himself a hero, he said:
Heroes abound, and should be revered as such, but don’t count astronauts among them. We work very hard; we did our jobs to near perfection, but that was what we had hired on to do. In no way did we meet the criterion of the Congressional Medal of Honor: ‘above and beyond the call of duty.’
Celebrities? What nonsense, what an empty concept for a person to be, as my friend the great historian Daniel Boorstin put it, “known for his well-known-ness.” How many live-ins, how many trips to rehab, maybe–wow–you could even get arrested and then you would really be noticed. Don’t get me started.
This is a man who is a true hero, one who requires no adulation and is content to enjoy the small victories of life; like finding a ten dollar bottle of cabernet, and a good Redskins win.