In a spooky sort of coincidence, I was listening to a discussion about the future of space travel on the day that the best-known pilot of a craft that traveled between two heavenly bodies died... yes, Michael Collins, history's greatest designated driver, left the earthly realm for the last time at the age of 90. A designated driver's sole mission is to ensure the safe return of friends from a foray, Michael Collins' role in the Apollo 11 mission was to get his companions, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, safe home to terra firma.
Describing his role in the mission, Major General Collins wrote that failure would be the ruination of him:
"My secret terror for the last six months has been leaving them on the Moon and returning to Earth alone; now I am within minutes of finding out the truth of the matter. If they fail to rise from the surface, or crash back into it, I am not going to commit suicide; I am coming home, forthwith, but I will be a marked man for life and I know it."
Michael Collins was well-prepared for his role piloting the Apollo 11 command module, having started as a test pilot in 1960 and an astronaut in 1963. He participated in the Gemini 10 spaceflight and served as Mission Control based capsule communicator for the Apollo 8 mission.
After Apollo 11, Michael Collins, enjoying post-mission encomium, was tapped by Richard Nixon to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs during a fraught period of US actions at home and abroad. He served for about a year before securing a job for which he was better suited, as the third director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Michael Collins was also an advocate for scientific and engineering progress, urging humanity to explore space, specifically having a human presence on Mars. In a world increasingly being mired in whackaloonery, voices such as Michael Collins' are needed more than ever.
Me being me, I would be remiss if I didn't post a Mekons song which perfectly encapsulates the wonders and horrors of the Space Age/Vietnam War era:
Michael Collins is known for a peaceful mission, an endeavor which could be a source of pride for all humanity. We need achievments which unite the human species, and we need role models like Michael Collins to move these efforts along.