Astronaut Michael Collins spends his time perfectly alone, thousands of miles from Earth.
As he did, all communication with the earth cut off, blocked by the moon, completely isolating him from humanity and thousands of miles from home. “I am now alone, truly alone, and completely detached from any familiar life,” Collins wrote in 2001 in his book Carrying. “I am it. If a calculation is taken, the score on the other side of the moon will be three billion plus two and God knows what on the one hand.”
It was an experience shared by six other people in history, but Collins was significantly absent from the experience, and it always seemed strange how the media portrayed him as the “lone man in history.” “I feel it strongly – not as fear or loneliness – as awareness, expectation, satisfaction, confidence, almost excitement. I like the feeling,” he wrote. “Outside my window I can see the stars – and this is where I know the moon to be, there’s only a black void; the moon’s presence is only defined by the absence of stars. Probably a pitch-black night in the middle of the Pacific Ocean Being alone almost guesses my situation.
The first man to land on the moon on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 was Collins, who was on the Columbia command module for 21 hours, and Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed on the surface and had a historic journey. Occupying him was the thought of the animals waiting for him on earth. “The thing I was worried about was the white rats,” he said in 2018. When the crew returned from their voyage, they would be separated for two weeks, if the crew had made a contagious pick on the moon (although it was thought to be highly unlikely, it was better safe than sorry). “If this weak little one doesn’t work very well, we’re in deep trouble. We’ve probably brought back some pathogens. So every time I was asked, ‘Weren’t you the loneliest?’ I think, ‘Oh God, these poor little white mice, I hope they’re doing well.’
As Armstrong and Aldrin return from the moon, Collins takes a picture of the Earth, our satellites, and the Eagle lunar module (top image). The only human or animal alive at the time that was not in the picture frame was Collins himself. Regarding his historic mission to the moon, Collins was very humble. “When the history of our galaxy is written and it may already be known to all of us, if mention of Earth is found it is not because its inhabitants went to their own moon,” he wrote in his book.