This picture looks just like another photo that NASA released from the Apollo 11 mission. However, the following is weird. As soon as this photograph was captured, it’s photographer, Michael Collins, was the only human-astronaut who doesn’t appear in its frame.
This photograph, released by NASA, depicts the lunar module Eagle coming back from the Moon’s periphery on July 21, 1969, about to meet with Columbia, the command module of the Apollo 11 mission.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are both within the space capsule the time the camera clicked. Back on the command module is Michael Collins, alone.
You wonder who he is? He is the least famous Apollo 11 astronaut, who didn’t leave his footprint on the Moon.
As aforementioned, the moment this photograph was snapped, the photographer was the only human being representative, dead or alive, who is not a part of it. So far as possible, that’s what the Law of Conservation of Mass lets us consider.
Everyone that was part of the Apollo 11 mission was also aware of the risks coming with it. Especially, the team members were not certain what could happen to their lives in space.
Besides the moon landing, the astronaut Michael Collins had other responsibilities.
Contrary to his colleagues Armstrong and Aldrin, who did the famous moonwalk, Collins was the pilot of the spacecraft and had to wait alone for the others to return from the Moon.
The lunar capsule Eagle separated from its mothership on July 20, 1969, from the Kennedy Space Center.
Four days after the launch, when it got inside the lunar orbit, Michael Collins felt the anxiety of being alone.
“Keep talking to me, guys,” he reportedly said to his colleagues as they rode away from the ship in which he needed to stay almost an entire day alone.
For a certain time, he was the Earth’s most faraway solo passenger. The radio signals ceased transferring his mission control cabin.
“It is there, reinforced by the fact that radio contact with the Earth abruptly cuts off at the instant I disappear behind the moon,” he noted inside his cabin.
He was cut from making any further contact with Earth. He describes his feelings towards this experience.
“I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what on this side.”
Besides that, he also had concerns that the Eagle that needs to take them back won’t lay a patch. As we said before, everyone was aware of the risks within the mission.
Worst case scenario, if things didn’t go as planned with the Eagle, Michael Collins would have been the mission’s only survivor.
Collins was open about his worries, as a story in the Guardian reports. At that time, he wrote:
“My secret terror for the last six months has been leaving them on the Moon and returning to Earth alone. If they fail to rise from the surface or crash back into it, I am not going to commit suicide; I am coming home, forthwith, but I will be a marked man for life, and I know it.”
Armstrong and Aldrin put the American flag, talked with the American president and some 20 hours and 30 minutes after the moonwalk, came back safe to the space capsule. The team was ready to go home.
In the end, Collin’s concerns remained concerns only. However, his name wasn’t celebrated so repeatedly.
On the 40th mission anniversary, Apollo 11’s least-famous astronaut said that it was his honor to be part of it.
Michael Collins was part of NASA until 1970. After that, he was the Director at the National Air&Space Museum in Washington, D.C for 8 years. He is now 87 years old.
As for the photo, it endures being one of the most poignant photographs ever made from space.