In this July 24, 1969, file photo, President Richard Nixon, back to camera, greets the Apollo 11 astronauts in a quarantine van on board the USS Hornet after splashdown and recovery in the Pacific Ocean. From left are Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin. (AP Photo/File)
Collins spent the eight-day mission piloting the command module. While Armstrong and Aldrin descended to the moon’s surface in the lunar lander, Eagle, Collins remained alone in the command module, Columbia.
“I guess you’re about the only person around that doesn’t have TV coverage of the scene,” Mission Control radioed Collins after the landing.
“That’s all right. I don’t mind a bit,” he responded.
Collins was alone for nearly 28 hours before Armstrong and Aldrin finished their tasks on the moon’s surface and lifted off in the lunar lander. Collins was responsible for re-docking the two spacecraft before the men could begin heading back to Earth. Had something gone wrong and Aldrin and Armstrong been stuck on the moon’s surface — a real fear — Collins would have returned to Earth alone.
In this July 20, 1999, file photo, Apollo 11 astronauts, from left, Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, are awarded the Samuel P. Langley medal, at a ceremony at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)
Credit: Doug Mills
Credit: Doug Mills
Though he was frequently asked if he regretted not landing on the moon, that was never an option for Collins, at least not on Apollo 11. Collins’ specialty was as a command module pilot, a job he compared to being the base camp operator on a mountain-climbing expedition. As a result, it meant he wasn’t considered to take part in the July 20, 1969, landing.
“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,” he wrote in his 1974 autobiography, “Carrying the Fire.” “This venture has been structured for three men, and I consider my third to be as necessary as either of the other two.”