Having done most everything he set out to do, Michael Collins left us again this week at the age of 90.
He had departed once before, flying to the moon aboard Apollo 11 in July 1969, station-keeping in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin made their perilous journey to and from Tranquility Base. The entire endeavor was about “leaving,” Collins concluded upon his return.
Once back on Earth, he contemplated the fate of the planet, the entire circle he was able to view from his space ship on the outbound leg.
“I’ve got the world out my window,” he told Mission Control in Houston. That phrase was the tentative title of Collins’ first book, eventually published to rave reviews as Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey.
In recent years, Collins returned to that theme.
“Once upon a time I was flying in space somewhere and I looked down and said, ‘Hey, Houston, I’ve got the world in my window.’ If you take that idea and expand it, you can have the world in your window. You can consider the world in your window, what you think about that world, how you think it might be changed, what part you might play in changing that world in directions you think are important for your values.”
Mike Collins’ daughters announced his death after a “valiant battle” with cancer. Pre-pandemic, they often accompanied their father to Apollo anniversary events and speaking engagements.
“Please join us in fondly and joyfully remembering his sharp wit, his quiet sense of purpose, and his wise perspective, gained from looking back at Earth from the vantage of space and gazing across calm waters from the deck of his fishing boat” on the Florida Gulf Coast.
Honoring his family’s wish, a Mike Collins memory: Your correspondent rode on a NASA bus with the astronaut and his daughters to a dinner at the Kennedy Space Center as part of a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire.
As we talked, a NASA functionary at the front of the bus inquired whether anyone aboard had any dietary restrictions. It turned out one of the Collins daughters did, but she was reluctant to speak up on the crowded bus.
The father knew this, diffusing the situation by declaring, “Yes, I hate parsnips!”
Retired U.S. Air Force Major General Michael Collins died on April 28, 2021, at a hospice facility in Naples, Fla., just up the road from his home on Marco Island. There, he had fished, painted, grieved over the 2014 death of his wife Pat, the “one and only true love of my life.”
From his dock, Mike Collins found another window to contemplate the moon he’d visited and the stars that guided him there a half-century ago.
— George Leopold, the former executive editor of EE Times and the author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom, also writes the EE Times Critical Path and By the Numbers blogs.
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