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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 10:38 EDT

Collins, Michael

Michael Collins was an American astronaut and test pilot who was one of only 24 people to have flown to the Moon. He was born on October 31, 1930 in Rome, Italy. As a child he moved constantly due to having military parents. His family ended up in Washington DC, where Collins attended St. Albans School. After his graduation, he went to the United States Military Academy and continued on to join the United States Air Force. He completed flight training at Columbus Air Force Base, moved on to San Marcos Air Force Base, and finally ended up flying F-86s at Chambley-Bussieres Air Base in France. In 1960, he was accepted to the USAF Experimental Flight Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base.

It was through the Air Force that Collins met his wife, Patricia Finnegan. She was from Boston, Massachusetts working for the Air Force service club. They got engaged, and after overcoming much religious turmoil, they married in 1957. One year later, their daughter Kate was born.

Eventually, Collins reached the 1500 hour minimum of flying, which enabled him to apply for the USAF Experimental Flight Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California. He enrolled in Class 60-C and began on August 29, 1960. He decided to be an astronaut after the Mercury Atlas 6 flight in February 1962. He immediately applied for the second group of astronauts that year, but he soon found out that he was not accepted. However, Collins still looks up to the second group of nine astronauts as some of the best ever. Some time later, NASA called again for astronaut applications. Collins went through the process again, and while at Randolph Air Force Base he received a call and was asked if he was still interested in becoming an astronaut.

As part of the third group, Collins began 240 hours of basic training. After training, he was assigned a job to monitor the development of EVAs and pressure suits, and act as a mediator between the astronaut office and the contractors. In 1965, Collins received his first crew assignment as a backup pilot for Gemini 7. After its successful completion, Collins was assigned to the prime crew of Gemini 10. The plan for the mission was to meet with two different Agena Target Vehicles, embark on two EVAs, and perform fifteen different experiments. Ironically, Collins received only $24.00 in travel reimbursement.

On January 27, 1967, Collins was in a staff meeting at the astronaut office when they got a call that there had been a fire in the Apollo 1 command module. Collins had to inform Martha Chaffee of her husband’s death. This day had quite an impact on Collins. Later that year, Collins and David Scott were sent to the Paris Air Show.
During 1968, Collins began to notice that his legs were not working properly, and his ability to use them deteriorated. He sought medical advice and was diagnosed with a herniated cervical disc. He had surgery at the USAF Wilford Hall Hospital at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas to fuse two vertebrae together. While the surgery was successful, it forced Collins to be removed from the crew of Apollo 9. However, he was made a CapCom, one of the only people who spoke to the crew during a mission. Following the successful flight, it was announced that the Apollo 11 crew would be Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

Collins created the famous mission patch of Apollo 11. During his day of flying around the Moon alone, Collins claims that he never felt lonely. Collins has several 48 minute periods of each orbit when he was completely out of contact with radios on Earth. Before returning home, Collins left his mark on the Moon by writing: “Spacecraft 107 “” alias Apollo 11 “” alias Columbia. The best ship to come down the line. God Bless Her. Michael Collins, CMP.” When the crew returned, they faced a 21-day quarantine before embarking on a 45-day “Giant Leap” tour across the United States.

After his work with NASA, Collins accepted the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, which made him in charge of exhibitions, speeches and history. However, he only held this position for a year, when he left to become director of the National Air and Space Museum. While at the museum, Collins wrote an autobiography called Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys. Today, it is known as the best and most accurate account of what it is like to be an astronaut. In 1978 Collins left the NASM and became the undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution and retired from the United States Air Force as a Major General. Finally, in 1985 Collins started his own consulting firm, Michael Collins Associates.

Collins lives with his wife Patricia in Marco Island, Florida, and Avon, North Carolina. Together they have three children: Kate, Ann, and Michael Jr.

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