The Other Guy

8 min readMay 16, 2021

With the death of the Apollo XI astronaut Michael Collins, a re-look at a man whose role defined the mission more than we realise

General Mike Collins, American Hero

Like many people who have been captured by the drama of the NASA space program, I was saddened to hear of the death of the great American astronaut, Michael Collins. Collins, who was 90 years old, left behind him a full lifetime of achievement and endeavour, but it is of course for one thing, his role as an astronaut on the Apollo XI spaceflight, that he will be remembered by history.

The flight of Apollo XI was the most-anticipated event of the post-war era, famous before it even happened, its two leading men — Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin — taken straight from the American Hero playbook. It seems almost inevitable in such circumstances that someone onboard the damn thing had to be the quiet one, and with both a job and a personality suited to that role, Michael Collins stepped up to play his part.

But if history thinks of Collins as the ‘quiet one’, a player of somehow secondary importance, then it has severely misjudged him. Aldrin for instance, thought of him as one of NASA’s best pilots. To state what should be obvious, there are no passengers on a flight like Apollo XI, with every role and task borne out of years of experience, meticulous planning and research. But, because lay people like ourselves do not understand the…