Astronaut Michael Collins, who died on Wednesday at the age of 90, had a very different experience than his Apollo 11 teammates.
While fellow NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first and second humans to set foot on the lunar surface, Collins remained in orbit in the command module.
In doing so, he became one of seven people to be alone orbiting the other side of the moon, completely isolated from all of humanity and all communications cut off, blocked by the moon itself.
Collins shared his haunting memories of that moment in his 1974 book, Carry fire:
“I don’t want to deny a feeling of loneliness. It is there, reinforced by the fact that radio contact with Earth is cut off abruptly as I disappear behind the moon. I am alone now, truly alone and absolutely isolated from all known life. I’m. If one 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 that side. I feel it powerfully – not as fear or loneliness – but as awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost elation. I like the feeling. Outside my window I can see stars – and that’s it. Where I know the moon, there is simply a black void; the presence of the moon is defined only by the absence of stars. Comparing the sensation to something earthly, perhaps being alone in a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a pitch black night, would be very close to my situation.
Collins was the second astronaut to orbit the moon alone after astronaut John Young did so during the Apollo 10 “dress rehearsal” mission two months earlier.
Al Worden of the Apollo 15 mission holds the Guinness World Record for “the most isolated human being” because he was even further removed from the rest of his crew due to a different orbit of his command module.
Worden, who passed away last year, recalled appreciating.
“There’s a thing about being alone and there is a thing about loneliness, and they’re two different things,” Worden told the BBC in 2014. “I was alone but I was not. not alone.
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