July 18, 2009
Statement From Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins
The following is a series of questions and answers prepared by Michael Collins, command module pilot for Apollo 11. Collins issued the following statement in lieu of media interviews:
These are questions I am most frequently asked, plus a few others I have thrown in. For more information, please consult my book, CARRYING THE FIRE, (CTF) Farrar, Straus & Giroux, the 40th anniversary edition, the only reference I have used here.
A. No. (CTF pp402-3)
Q. Did you have the best seat on Apollo XI?
A. No. (CTF pp 267-8)
Q. Were you happy with the seat you had?
A. Yes, absolutely. It was an honor.
Q. Has the space program helped young people become interested in careers in math and science? Don't you tell kids to opt for these choices?
A. Yes, and no. We definitely have a national problem in that kids seem to be going for money rather than what they consider 'nerdy' careers. Other countries are outstripping us in the quality and quantity of math and science grads, and this can only hurt in the long run. But a liberal arts education, particularly English, is a good entry point no matter what the later specialization. I usually talk up English.
Q. Turning to your flight, what is your strongest memory of Apollo XI?
A. Looking back at planet earth from a great distance. (CTF pp470-472; p XVIII) Small, shiny, serene, blue and white, FRAGILE.
Q. That was 40 years ago. Would it look the same today?
A. Yes, from the moon, but appearances can be deceptive. It's certainly not serene, but definitely is fragile, and growing more so. When we flew to the moon, our population was 3 billion; today it has more than doubled and is headed for 8 billion, the experts say. I do not think this growth is sustainable or healthy. The loss of habitat, the trashing of oceans, the accumulation of waste products: this is no way to treat a planet.
Q. You are starting to sound a little grumpy. Are you grumpy?
A. At age 78, yes, in many ways. Some things about current society irritate me, such as the adulation of celebrities and the inflation of heroism.
Q. But aren't you both?
A. Not me. Neither. (CTF pg XV, XVI) 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.
Q. So, if I wanted to sum you up, I should say "grumpy?"
A. No, no, lucky! (CTF pg XVI) Usually, you find yourself either too young or too old to do what you really want, but consider: Neil Armstrong was born in 1930, Buzz Aldrin 1930, and Mike Collins 1930. We came along at exactly the right time. We survived hazardous careers and we were successful in them. But in my own case at least, it was 10 percent shrewd planning and 90 percent blind luck. Put LUCKY on my tombstone.
Q. Okay, but getting back to the space program. What's next?
A. I hope Mars. It was my favorite planet as a kid and still is. As celestial bodies go, the moon is not a particularly interesting place, but Mars is. It is the closest thing to a sister planet that we have found so far. I worry that at NASA's creeping pace, with the emphasis on returning to the moon, Mars may be receding into the distance. That's about all I have to say.
Q. I understand you have become a recluse.
A. I'm not sure that's the word. I think of the Brown Recluse, the deadliest of spiders, and I have a suntan, so perhaps. Anyway, it's true I've never enjoyed the spotlight, don't know why, maybe it ties in with the celebrity thing.
Q. So, how do you spend your time?
A. Running, biking, swimming, fishing, painting, cooking, reading, worrying about the stock market, searching for a really good bottle of cabernet under ten dollars. Moderately busy.
Q. No TV?
A. A few nature programs, and the Washington Redskins, that's about it.
Q. Do you feel you've gotten enough recognition for your accomplishments?
A. Lordy, yes, Oodles and oodles.
Q. Oodles?? But don't you have any keen insights?
A. Oh yeah, a whole bunch, but I'm saving them for the 50th.
Collins's official NASA astronaut biography is available online at: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/collins-m.html
Additional information about the 40th anniversary of Apollo can be found at: http://www.nasa.gov/apollo40th