More than five decades ago, on July 20, 1969, Michael Collins played a pivotal role in putting the first two men – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission. The former test pilot was dubbed “the loneliest man in the world” as he spent more than 21 hours alone in the Command Module, while the pair carried out their experiments on the lunar surface. As a trio, their heroics would bring an end to the Space Race with the Soviet Union by completing US President John F. Kennedy’s goal of putting a man on the Moon by the end of the Sixties.
After returning to Earth, Collins took part in an around-the-world tour with his colleagues to mark their achievements, but in 1970 he retired from NASA – despite being a likely candidate to be the next man to walk on the Moon.
Speaking to the BBC in 2019, he said: “I went on to do other things, first I was assistant of state, later on, the director of the National Air and Space Museum.
“I think the personal ones at that time probably weighed more heavily on me than the professional ones.”
Collins explained how his lifestyle was becoming increasingly taxing on both him and his family and did not feel like he had let NASA down by leaving.
He added: “My wife, Pat, had put up with my ridiculous career being a jet fighter pilot, a test pilot and this looney astronaut thing.
“That required long hours, a lot of time away from home and during that time away you were stuffed into a simulator.
“I was sick and tired of being stuffed into a simulator and I felt that I had upheld my end of the bargain with NASA.
“I didn’t feel like I owed NASA anything, nor did they owe me anything.”
“I made my decision, I was happy with my decision, I was living in Washington DC with a decent job, my family situation was good, I had no cause for any great regret.”
Yesterday, details were revealed about Donald Trump’s proposals to mine the Moon in a new US-sponsored international agreement called the Artemis Accords.
The agreement would be the latest effort to cultivate allies around NASA’s plan to put humans and space stations on the Moon within the next decade and comes as the civilian space agency plays a growing role in implementing American foreign policy.
The draft pact has not been formally shared with US allies yet.