On July 21, 1969, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first two men to step foot on the lunar surface, with the latter jumping off the lunar lander Eagle to deliver his “one small step” message to the millions watching on Earth. The pair buried the US flag into the surface to signify completing John F. Kennedy’s goal of putting man on the Moon by the end of the Sixties and bringing an end to the Space Race, while Mr Collins orbited alone in the command module for 21 hours. In an interview 50 years on, Mr Collins shed light on some of the sobering realities of the entire mission, including the weight the trio felt on their shoulders to beat the Soviet Union to the Moon.
He told Newsweek in 2019: “There was a lot of polarisation in 1969, just as there is today.
“One difference was that President John F. Kennedy, who was very clear in his stated mandate to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth by the end of the decade.
“So there was no doubt about what we were going to do and when we were supposed to do it.
“Now the how of it was up to us and that’s what we spent a decade working very hard at, to achieve the first lunar landing before the end of the decade.”
Mr Collins went on to detail how he actually met some of the Russian cosmonauts prior to Apollo 11, and they got along.
He added: “I don’t know if JFK was a good leader or not, in many ways he was wonderful for the space programme and I liked him, though I never met him.
“We were not friendly with the Soviet Union at the time, the Paris Air Show was neutral territory.
“I expected perhaps a tinge of hostility from them, but I got none, we concentrated more on the fact that we had similar backgrounds, rather than political differences.
“They flew aircrafts, we flew aircrafts, we lived in the sky, they lived in the sky, we concentrated more on those similarities.
“As people, I got along very well with Pavel Belyayev, he seemed like someone I could go out and have a beer with on very friendly terms and for a moment, at least, we forgot the latent hostility.”
But, in a more serious tone, Mr Collins explained that the mission failure was a stark reality that the Apollo astronauts were aware of.
He continued: “We felt that the eyes of the world were upon us, it was something that we had every opportunity to mess up, to make a mistake.
“We were, well at least I was, uptight in that regard, I was trying to do everything exactly as I had been trained to do.
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“I knew that if I messed up somehow, there would be not only national, but international repercussions because of that.
“I think that Americans were very proud of the space programme, the fact that we successfully landed on the Moon.
“However, it was not the be-all and the end-all of their existence, people’s lives go on, it happened and receded into the background.”
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