Observances

Apollo 11 Astronaut Was Also an Air Force General

July 12, 2019 | BY David Vergun

Michael Collins was one of the three astronauts on Apollo 11 in July 1969. He flew the command module Columbia, orbiting the moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the lunar surface. On July 21, Armstrong and Aldrin lifted off from the moon in their lunar module Eagle to reunite with the command module.

Man sits in space capsule
Space Capsule
Michael Collins sits in the hatch of Apollo 11 command module after its return to the Manned Spacecraft Center’s Lunar Receiving Laboratory in Houston for detailed examination, Aug. 5, 1969.
Photo By: NASA
VIRIN: 690805-O-ZZ999-001

We came along at exactly the right time."
Michael Collins, astronaut

The three safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean east of Wake Island on July 24 aboard Columbia. Their achievement was considered so spectacular that the three were honored with parades in New York and Chicago, which millions attended.

Before he flew on Apollo 11, Collins was command pilot on Gemini 10, his only other space flight. Like Armstrong and Aldrin, Collins was a military veteran.

Men pose beside rocket model
Gemini Spacecraft
Astronauts Michael Collins and John Young pose beside a model of their Gemini spacecraft and Titan II booster, July 1, 1966.
Photo By: NASA
VIRIN: 660701-O-ZZ999-001

He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, in 1952 and opted to join the Air Force.

While Armstrong and Aldrin were serving in the Korean War that year, Aldrin was assigned to several Air Force bases in Mississippi, Texas and Nevada for flight training. In January 1954, he joined the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing at George Air Force Base, California, where he learned to deliver nuclear weapons in his F-86 Sabre jet.

Man reads notes
Collins' Notes
Astronaut Michael Collins runs through a checklist in a simulator of the Apollo 11 command module, Dec. 31, 1968.
Photo By: NASA
VIRIN: 681230-O-ZZ999-001C

He was on active duty from 1952 to 1970 and from 1970 to 1982, he served in the Air Force Reserve, retiring as a major general.

He currently spends his time in Florida and North Carolina. 

All three Apollo 11 astronauts share the same birth year: 1930. "We came along at exactly the right time. We survived hazardous careers and were successful in them. But in my own case at least, it was 10% shrewd planning and 90% blind luck," Collins told "The Guardian" reporter Robin McKie.

Men chat
Astronaut Chat
Astronauts John Young, left, and Michael Collins chat aboard their recovery ship, USS Guadalcanal, July 21, 1966.
Photo By: NASA
VIRIN: 660721-O-ZZ999-001