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Michael Collins is a former astronaut who was part of the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions, the latter of which included the first lunar landing in history.
40 years after his first walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong was honored, along with fellow Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, by President Barack Obama at the White House. (Video courtesy of the White House)
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Michael Collins was born in Rome, Italy on October 31, 1930. Inspired by John Glenn, he was chosen by NASA to be part of the third group of astronauts. His first spaceflight was the Gemini 10 mission, where he performed a spacewalk. His second was Apollo 11—the first lunar landing in history. Collins received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He currently works as an aerospace consultant.
Michael Collins was born on October 31, 1930 in Rome, Italy, where his father, United States Army Major General James Lawton Collins, was stationed. After the United States entered World War II, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Collins attended St. Albans School. During this time, he applied and was accepted to West Point Military Academy in New York, and decided to follow his father, two uncles, brother and cousin into the armed services.
In 1952, Collins graduated from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree. He joined the Air Force that same year, and completed flight training in Columbus, Mississippi. His performance earned him a position on the advanced day fighter training team at Nellis Air Force Base, flying the F-86 Sabres. This was followed by an assignment to the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing at the George Air Force Base, where he learned how to deliver nuclear weapons. He also served as an experimental flight test officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California, testing jet fighters.
Collins made the decision to become an astronaut after watching John Glenn's Mercury Atlas 6 flight. He applied for the second group of astronauts that same year, but was not accepted. Disappointed, but undaunted, Collins entered the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School as the Air Force began to research space. That year, NASA once again called for astronaut applications, and Collins was more prepared than ever. In 1963 he was chosen by NASA to be part of the third group of astronauts.
Collins made two spaceflights. The first, on July 18, 1966, was the Gemini 10 mission, where Collins performed a spacewalk. The second was the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969—the first lunar landing in history. Collins, accompanied by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, remained in the Command Module while his partners walked on the planet. Collins continued circling the Moon until July 21, when Armstrong and Aldrin rejoined him. The next day, he and his fellow astronauts left lunar orbit. They landed in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin were all awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon. However, Aldrin and Armstrong ended up receiving a majority of the public credit for the historic event, although Collins was also on the flight.
Collins left NASA in January 1970, and one year later, he joined the administrative staff of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1980, he entered the private sector, working as an aerospace consultant. In his spare time, Collins says he stays active, and spends his days "worrying about the stock market" and "searching for a really good bottle of cabernet under ten dollars."
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"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!" The famous words spoken by Neil Armstrong in 1969, created one of the most unforgettable moments in U.S. history. Even before that first-ever landing on the moon, astronauts began navigating their way through the thrill and mystery that is outer space. From John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit the earth, to Sally Ride, the first American woman to enter space, these famous names have taken space exploration to new heights.
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