Monday, September 28, 2009

Michael Collins (astronaut)

I was actually going to write up this post in late July during the 40th anniversary celebration of the moon landing, but shockingly I was sidetracked by procrastination and laziness (totally unbelievable, I know). I could have just scrapped the whole entry and wrote about some other current topic, but as the Catholic church has demonstrated, it's better to have an egregiously belated response than no response at all. Besides, there are far worse examples of tardiness when it come to news about the moon landing.

If you haven't already figured it out from the title, I was going to write about Michael Collins, Apollo astronaut, member of the first manned spaceflight to land on the moon, one of only 24 human beings to have flown to the moon, and the receiver of one of the rawest deals in history. Ask most average people on the street to name the first three men to go to the moon and you're likely to get mostly Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin; but more often then not, Michael Collins would be completely overlooked. Some people might not even have known that there was a third guy involved. It'd be like that episode of Seinfeld where everybody kept forgetting the name of the third member of the Three Tenors after Pavarotti and Domingo (Jose Carreras).

Of course you can't really blame most people for forgetting about Collins, such is the lack of fame one gets for being the poor sap who makes the historic journey all the way to the moon, reaching the zenith of human progress and ingenuity, and then getting stuck with the selfless job of sitting in an idling spacecraft while your other two crew mates go and take a historic jog around the lunar surface for a global audience. Obviously, his role was absolutely crucial to the success of the mission, but you have to believe that somewhere along the crew selection process for the Apollo 11 mission that he must lost a wager or a coin toss to have been relegated to such an undeniably thankless position.

So while Neil Armstrong gets the eternally bad ass distinction of being the first guy on the moon and a soundbite for the ages and Buzz Aldrin get sloppy seconds distinction and a memorable Simpsons cameo; poor Mike can't even beat Irish freedom fighter Michael Collins for wikipedia priority on Google searches. It's really an unfair double twist of history that he would have the least prominent role on the space mission and have a name that was already made famous decades prior to his own birth. Had he even had a cool nickname like Buzz, I figure he'd have at least twice the recognition he has today. It would have been a lot harder to relegate to the forgotten background of history a "Iceman" Collins or a "Superfly" Collins.

Well, at least they got Cary Elwes to play him in HBO's "From the Earth to the Moon" miniseries back in 1998, a pretty flattering choice for any astronaut.

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