Do you know the person who is named as the most isolated man from the whole world? You may have definitely heard about him. He is none other than Michael Collins. He is one of the famous astronauts who joined in a great space mission that happened in history, the mission to land on the moon’s surface. He was the astronaut who flew ‘Columbia’, the command module in Apollo 11 mission. Due to the number of missions he participated in, he was named the most isolated man in the world. The reason for that is he flew the command modules in lunar orbit in most of the mission lonely while his colleagues made to land on the moon. There are lots of interesting things to know about this great person’s career and his service. Let’s go through his biography!
His mother was a British woman and his father was from Ireland. Michael was born on 31st October 1930 in Rome, Italy. He had one older brother called James Lawton Jr. and two sisters called Agnes and Virginia. His father, James Lawton Collins was a United States Army officer. Collins had to live in many places until he become a young man. That’s because as his father was an Army officer, he had to move on to different locations to do his duty. They had to live in Rome, Oklahoma, New York, Maryland, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Texas, and Virginia.
Collins had his first plane ride in Puerto Rico. Even though he liked to fly again, he could not do that because World War II was started. When the United States engaged with World War II, their family moved to Washington D.C. Collins attended St. Albans School there. After he graduated in 1948, his mother asked him to join ambassadorial services. But he chose to join the army following his father, brother, two uncles, and his cousin. He got the chance to enter U. S. Military Academy which is situated in West Point. That was the same academy that his father and brother graduated from in 1907 and 1939 in order. On 3rd June 1952, he completed his graduation as the 185th of 527 students with a Bachelor’s degree in Military Science. Ed White who later became an astronaut was also his classmate.
Collins was so interested in aeronautics and wondered about what will happen in upcoming years. And also he didn’t like to have accusations of favoritism of his relations in the Army. Because his father was a major general at that time. And also his uncle J. Lawton Collins was the Chief of Staff in the U.S. Army. His brother was also a colonel in Army by that time. The Air Force Academy was under construction during that period. So they welcomed graduates from Military Academy. So Collins decided to Join Air Force instead of joining Army.
Collins started his flight training in 1952 at the Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. The first flight he flew was a T-6 Texan which was manufactured by North American Aviation while World War II to train pilots. Then he learned formation flying from San Marcos Air force Base which was situated in Texas. Then he moves to train jet aircraft flying in James Connelly Air Force Base. He was not like many other his colleagues. He did flying very easily. So he could complete his flying course in September 1953 and be awarded wings.
Because of his skills, he was selected for a training program in Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada to train advanced day-fighter training from F-86 Sabres. These were transonic fighter jets which also called Sabrejet and designed especially for dogfights in the sky with Soviet MiG-15. He trained there for 22 weeks, and 11 trainee pilots were killed in accidents, showing how dangerous that training was. Then in January 1954, he moved to George Air Force Base in California as he was deployed to 21st Fighter- Bomber Wing. In there he trained about techniques in nuclear weapon delivery and ground attacks using F-86.
He met Patricia Mary Finnegan in Massachusetts who later became his wife. She was a social worker who graduates from Emmanuel College and worked for the Air Force Service Club. They become engaged but they had to postpone their wedding because due to the Hungarian Revolution, Michael Collin was deployed to Germany. After that in 1957, they got married. They had their first daughter Kate Collins in 1959, in 1961 they had their second daughter Ann and in 1963 they had their son Michael.
In 1957 he moved to Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois to attend an Aircraft Maintenance course. After finishing his course he became commander at Mobile Training Detachment and traveled to many Air Bases all over the world. Because of this Mobile Training Detachment, Collins could complete 1,500 flying hours. It was the minimum requirement to apply for the Experimental Flight Test School of the U.S. Air Force in California. On 29th August 1960, he was selected and became a Class 60C member. There were Jim Irwin, Frank Borman and Tom Stafford later became astronauts. This test pilot training started with the T-28 Trojan which was manufactured by North American Aviation. After that training went through F-86 Sabre, T-33 Shooting Star, B-57 Canberra, and F-104 Starfighter.
He got the idea to be an astronaut on 20th February 1962 when he was flying a Mercury-Atlas 6. He was amused with thinking to go around the earth in 90 minutes. So he applied to be an astronaut. But in September he got to know that he was not selected. In the same year, Experimental Flight Test Pilot School transformed to Aerospace Research Pilot School. The reason was that U.S. Air Force was trying to enter space operations through programs like X-20 and X-15. So Collins applied for a postgraduate course in Basics of Spaceflight there. His application was successful and he was selected on 22nd October 1962 for the 3rd class. In this course, they got a chance to fly up to 27,000 meters in the sky with F-104 Starfighters. From that, they could get the first experience of weightlessness.
In May 1963 he finished his post-graduate course and went back to military operations. In June NASA called applications for astronauts. Collins applied again with the same application he applied before. On 14th October Collins was working at Randolph Air Force when he got the good news. The Chief of Astronaut Office, Deke Slayton called him and told him that he was selected for the NASA.
Collins was selected to the third group and it had 14 astronauts. Collins was the youngest one in there who was 31 years old. The basic training was a 240 hours course that taught them about the basics of spaceflight. At the end of the training, the Chief of Astronaut Office asked them to pick the colleagues they would like to go to the space with. Then David Scott was selected by Collins as his number one choice.
After finishing the basic training third group got specializations. Collin’s first choice was to have pressure suits and Extravehicular Activities (EVAs). He got that and his job was to monitor development. Collins received the first crew assignment in June 1965 as a backup pilot in Gemini 7 mission which was commanded by Borman. He was the first one who received a crew assignment of their group of fourteen. After successfully completing Gemini 7 mission on 24th January 1966, he was selected to the prime crew in Gemini 10 mission. In this mission, they had to do 15 scientific experiments.
The Gemini 10 launched from Cape Canaveral on 18th July 1966. With their Agena 10 engine, they reached a new altitude record of 764 km, breaking 475 km. the first EVA of the Collin happened in the dark side of the earth. It enabled him to get photos of the Milky Way. To have the second EVA, their spacecraft was jettisoned. Michael Collins could be the first astronaut who has performed two spacewalks in one space mission. After activating retrorockets on 43rd orbit, Collins and Young splashed down to the Atlantic Ocean on 21st July. They were rescued by a helicopter. Collins and Young could complete most of the major objectives of this mission.
After this Gemini 10 mission, Collins was selected for the backup crew in the Apollo mission. In this Collins was assigned as the Lunar Module Pilot. Collins received helicopter flying training before this mission as that was the best way to train the landing process of the Lunar Module.
In 1968 Collins noticed that his legs are not working properly and his left leg had unusual sensations. So he took medical advice and he had to do surgery. After the surgery, he had so spent 3 months with the neck brace. So he was removed from Apollo 9 crew.
Apollo 11 is the most historic space mission Michael Collins participated in with Neil Buzz Aldrin and Armstrong. The records say that more than one million spectators watched the launching of Apollo 11 around the launching site. The launching was also televised in 33 countries. On 16th July 1969, Apollo 11 was lifted with a Saturn V engine from Kennedy Space Center. 12 minutes later, they entered the Earth Orbit. On 19th July they entered Lunar Orbit with the support of their propulsion engine. On 20th July Armstrong and Aldrin entered the ‘Eagle’ and separated from ‘Colombia’ to land on the moon. Collins was alone in ‘Colombia’ inspecting the ‘Eagle’.
After completing the mission on 21st July ‘Eagle’ lifted off from the moon to join with ‘Colombia’. After successfully joining with ‘Eagle’, ‘Colombia’ made its way to Earth. On 24th July ‘Colombia’ splashed down to the Pacific Ocean near Wake Island. The total time period of this mission was eight days and three hours. After 21 days of quarantine on the 13th of August, these three astronauts came to New York and Chicago. An official dinner was arranged for the three astronauts in Los Angeles with the attendance of 44 governors and 83 ambassadors from different nations. In September these three astronauts took a 38-day world tour to 22 foreign countries including visiting world leaders.
On 15th December 1969, Collins was appointed as the Assistant Secretary of the State for Public Affairs. But he began to work on 6th January 1970. He had to spend a difficult time when doing his job. During that time Vietnam War was happening so badly. And also there was the invasion of Cambodia. When time goes on Collin realized that he is not happy with the job. So he requested to become Director of the National Air and Space Museum. He worked in a director position until 1978. During this time he also remained in U.S. Air Force Reserve. He was given major general rank in 1976 and he retired from that in 1982.
Besides these careers, he completed many other achievements. In 1974 he completed Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School. Not only that, he was appointed as vice president of the LTV Aerospace in 1980. But he resigned from his job to start his own company in 1985 called Michael Collins Associates.
In 1974 he wrote his autobiography called ‘carrying the fire’. As a person who did a great job for the world, he received many honors and awards. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom with his Apollo 11 crew after successfully completing it. In 1966 he was awarded the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross appreciating his work in Gemini Projects. Collins and Young got NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 1996 for their support in Gemini 10 mission. In 1970 Society of Experimental Test Pilots awarded him with Iven C. Kincheloe Award.
Collins lived in Florida, North Carolina, and Avon with his bellowed wife Patricia Mary Finnegan. Unfortunately, she died in April 2014. Then He moved to Florida and this great man died when he was 90 years old, on the 28th of April 2021 due to cancer.