ML 138488

AudioDateDownLeftRightUpCloseReportGallerySettingsGiftLanguageGridListMapMenuPhotoPlayPlusSearchStarUserVideo

Interview :04 - 32:17 Play :04 - More
Audio »
More
Video »
Browse
species »
Michael Collins  

Age/Sex
Identification
Solicitation
Behavior
Note

 

100%

 

 

 

Space flight  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
12 Feb 1999

    Geography
  • United States
    District of Columbia
    Locality
  • Washington, D.C.; National Public Radio
    Latitude/Longitude
  • 38.90213   -77.02079
    Channels
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Recorders
    Microphones
    Accessories
    Equipment Note
  • Stereo=1; Dual-Channel Mono

NPR/NGS RADIO EXPEDITIONS
Show: Geographic Century
Log of DAT #: 1
Date:02/12/99

ng = not good
ok = okay
g = good
vg = very good

Don Smith (DS)
00:01:42
Tell me what your name is and what you do.

Michael Collins (MC)
00:01:45
I¿m Mike Collins and I¿m retired right now. I live in Florida, I spend a lot of time out on the water. My new interest is the ocean rather than space as it used to be although I certainly am keeping an interest in space in a hope for the future of our space exploration programs.

DS
00:02:47
It¿s been 33 years since Gemini ten and 31 years since you went to the moon is it strange that it¿s been so long since we went to the moon? 00:02:23

MC
00:02:24
Well time does go by so swiftly. It is amazing to me sometimes when I talk to young people and they don¿t know anything about the lunar landings or the Apollo program but I guess that¿s the way it is I mean things march on so swiftly in our society today, in this environment that, I that I don¿t blame them. It has bee a long time since we¿ve been to the moon and I expect we¿ll eventually send people back to the moon. [G] Actually, I¿m a lot less interested in the moon than I am in Mars. I think that Mars is a far more varied and interesting spot to the moon. Mars is the closest thing that we have to a sister planet in this solar system and I am really intrigued by the possibility of sending people in expedition to Mars. As a matter of fact, I hope that we don¿t get detoured too long by sending people back to the moon. Been there, done that. I¿d like to see us get on to Mars.

DS
00:03:29 Would you like to go? 00:03:29

MC
00:03:30
Yes, I definitely would like to go. There¿s no chance of it. I¿m 68 years old now. My hope is that I¿ll just be in my wheelchair somewhere ushering these people off when they leave Cape Canaveral when they begin their trip to Mars but if I were younger I definitely would want to go.

DS
00:03:50 Well John Glenn did it. 00:03:51

MC
00:03:52 (laughter) That¿s true. Maybe I¿m no John Glenn. It is a long trip to Mars it is about 9 months one way, depending on how much fuel you have to spend. You can speed up the process a little bit but not by much. And then when you get to Mars and you want to come home you can¿t necessarily do it right away you may have to wait until the two planets, Earth and Mars are in proper alignment relative to each other before you are able to come back. So it¿s an expedition of about two years of duration and before you under take such a project you better be darn sure that you don¿t have too many geriatric astronauts on board that are going to have failing systems within that two year time frame.

DS
00:04:45 That¿s got to do something to the astronaut¿s bodies, being in space, weightlessness. 00:04:50

MC
00:04:50 Weightlessness is a peculiar condition. Our bodies are not used to it here on earth. We are pinned down here by gravity which is a nuisance in some ways but our bodies have become so accustomed to it that if you remove gravity your bones, for example tend to leach out the calcium and your bone structure becomes very weak similar to very old people to osteoporosis. So there are a lot of difficulties for the human body in weightlessness but there are countermeasures. You can exercise like crazy, you can include a little centrifuge on board, you can spin people up and restore gravity to their bodies temporarily. So I¿m not concerned that it will be a show stopper but it is at least something that the people who are planning a Mars expedition must very carefully consider.

DS
00:05:46 You did some running in place. 00:05:48

MC
00:05:49 Well on Gemini and on Apollo we did some exercise in flight but it was more or less just to keep ourselves feeling a little bit better and a little more alert. It was not a medical necessity at all. But in the case of a two year Martian expedition exercise would definitely be a very large part of their regimen.

DS
00:06:14 You found that running in place relieved lower back problems. 00:06:18

MC
00:06:19 Yeah, it relieved some lower back problems and it¿s always good to give your body a little workout. Get the pulse rate a little bit, start sweating some. It makes you feel better. I think there¿s these little things called endorphins that are running around in your body and they all high-five one another when you exercise and it makes you feel better right after you¿ve finished exercising.

DS
00:06:45 How do you deal with the mental challenge of knowing that when you go up in a rocket you are taking your life in your own hands. 00:06:59

MC
00:07:00 Yeah, I don¿t know there are so many high risk professions in our society. A policeman that goes into a darkened alley and he or she had to face that situation on a daily basis, astronauts do have the devil scared out of them every once and a while but I think you look at the statistics for one thing. And of course, I think that human beings sort of have the feeling that well it may happen to Joe blow but it ain¿t gonna happen to me so I think that there is some element of a lack or realism in your thinking about blasting off in a huge rocket.

DS
00:07:41 Looking back at your experience, you were 28 when NASA was est., do you think our progress has been swift or slow? 00:08:13

MC
00:08:13 I think that our progress in space has definitely not been swift in recent years but I think that progress tends to jump from one plateau to another, I don¿t think you find too many areas, too many scientific areas where there¿s a steady upward, even trend. It¿s usually advance /consolidate, advance/consolidate. We have been in a period of consolidation for a long time now and I would like to see us jump up to that next level. What that next level is, in most people¿s minds, is the international space station which will be fully assembled within a couple of years. It will serve, I think as a useful research tool but again, I¿m not as interested in the moon or the space station, per say as I am getting beyond those and getting to Mars. [VG]Mars to me is a far more interesting destination and I think that there is something within us, that wants to within us human beings that causes us to want to expand to the far corners of the solar system and Mars is certainly the next logical stepping stone along that trip.

DS
00:09:30 You said (coughing) that the Apollo program was a dead end? 00:09:42

MC
00:09:43 Well I think Apollo should not have been considered a dead end but I think that it kind of ended up that way. President Kennedy said that the object was to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the decade and he didn¿t then say, comma and beyond that we are going to go onto Mars and blah, blah, blah.. it was his pronouncement had a definite time tag. A beginning, a middle and an ending. In that sense, once the lunar landing took place, once Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the surface of the moon. People said, ok well we did it. We did what Kennedy asked us to do, we¿ve done it and in that way it was a dead end. Now it created an immense body of technology that could be used for more complicated adventures in space and eventually it will be used but again nothing proceeds at an even pace there are fits and starts and two steps forward and one back and I think that¿s what¿s happened in the space program.

DS
00:11:00 Well you have long advocated going to Mars as a way of getting NASA¿s focus back. Has NASA regained it¿s sense of purpose? 00:11:24

MC
00:11:25 It¿s difficult for NASA to remain a cutting edge agency, if you want to call it that. I look at the other Government departments ;the Department of Commerce or Labor or Interior and I don¿t find people filled with wild exuberance because they work at the Department of Labor for example, and perhaps it¿s unfair year after year after year to expect for the NASA people to be just bursting with energy and new ideas. I think after a while a bureaucracy does take over. But NASA is really the problem. I think the problem is how much of their hard earned tax dollars the American people want to devote to space exploration. Now it¿s less than a penny on every dollar and that may be a reasonable figure but I think most Americans don¿t realize how little they put into NASA and maybe if they do they think that¿s plenty sufficient, it¿s an interesting discussion., How much of your resources do you put into solving today¿s problems and how much do you kind of put aside to take a look at the future.

DS
00:13:00 You said Americans like the space program but have competing needs. Can we do both things and why is space so important? 00:13:27

MC
00:13:28 [G]Well, I think when the first colonists hit the East Coast of the United States they started setting up villages and towns in the Appalachian mountains were quite a barrier. Their little settlements were poor squalid, unhealthy dirty little settlements and I think that had the colonists decided that we better stick right here on the East Coast and solve all these problems before we venture out west over the Appalachians I think the history of this country would have been far different and far less interesting than it has been. [VG] It is in us to press on to see what¿s over that hill, around that corner and we have to have a balance in doing that. I don¿t think that you can launch your space probes from a springboard of poverty or racial or social inequity but on the other hand I don¿t believe that you can wait until each and every last terrestrial problem is solved before facing up to the future and trying to get to it a little quicker.

DS
00:14:47 Let¿s talk about the early days of space. Manned vs. Unmanned? 00:15:04

MC
00:15:05 I think that in most cases it¿s cheaper and more effective to learn about the far reaches of our universe without trying to send people out there. I mean I wouldn¿t want to try and send a person out to Pluto or out of our solar system to Alpha Centari but on the other hand I think that human beings will eventually live in other places beyond Earth. There many be a colony on the moon, I don¿t know but I think certainly Mars will be colonized and perhaps the more distant parts of our solar system. I just think that people will want to go and live in some place totally different where they weigh one third or one sixth of what they weight here where the sky will be pink instead of blue, where the temperature extremes will be somewhat different and so on and so forth so [G] I think it is absolutely inevitable that we, the human race will leave the planet Earth and live other places but if you are asking what do we do to learn more about the gigantic universe it is in most cases a lot cheaper and more cost effective and quicker and simpler and less dangerous not to send people.

DS
00:16:34 John Glenn, 1962, Friendship 7. Do you know him very well? 00:16:41

MC
00:16:41 I¿ve known John along time, I like John very much. I think he is a wonderful man and a good senator and a good astronaut and beyond that a very fine person but I haven¿t kept close tabs with John over the years. My wife knows John and Annie a bit better than I do. Yes, I¿ve followed his career and wish him all the best in his retirement.

DS
00:17:09 Is it a good thing that he went back into space? 00:17:10

MC
00:17:10 Yes, I think so. I was very surprised that it caught the fancy of the American public to the extend that it did. I though people would say, well fine, if they want to send up and old guy maybe some doctor somewhere whose practicing geriatric medicine will learn something new but I didn¿t think that there would be a great deal of public excitement as there was and I was delighted to see the excitement.

DS
00:17:40 We have tape of him in the 60¿s describing flaming parts of his space craft, he sounds sort of removed from the situation but I guess you have to be like that.00:18:13

MC
00:18:14 No, I think that when John came back into the atmosphere from his Mercury orbit I think he was probably terrified, he should have been because he had an indication a warning light on his instrument panel that indicated that his heat shield might have come loose. As it turns out, it had not but he didn¿t know whether it was a true or a false indicator, nor did anyone else and so he had that in the back of his mind and then as he got into the denser and denser atmosphere chunks of his heat shield were flying incandescent chunks were flying past his window and that would be enough to scare the devil out of anybody and I¿m sure that he was frightened but I¿m sure, again as a trained test pilot, he felt that his job was to report those facts and if he didn¿t make it through at least people would learn from his experience and solve the problem before the next flight.

DS
00:19:17 Let¿s talk about your experiences, how did you feel to be chosen for the first manned flight to the moon? Did you get any sort of rush that you can describe? 00:20:04

MC
00:20:06 Well I think that there are a couple of things that have worked against astronauts really bringing back to Earth a really true picture of how they felt in space, one is that the early ones of us at least, were test pilots and we were trained not to become emotionally involved. We had problems enough trying to record pitch, roll, yah, spin, what have you of a new airplane if our attention wandered to the beauty of the sunset outside the canopy we might very well destroy ourselves. So our training was just the facts, Ma¿am. Stick with it, explain it dispassionately and concisely what is taking place. So I think that¿s one reason why astronauts tended to talk jargon rather than reveal how they truly felt. And another thing that worked against it was that we were in fact very busy and particularly the more interesting parts of the flight tended to be the busiest. For instance on my Gemini flight I was able to make a space walk but I had so many things going on during that space walk I had absolutely no ability to just relax and enjoy it and look around and get my impressions. I wish I had but I think those are some of the reasons why astronauts tend to be regarded as mechanical people. They¿re really not down underneath but that¿s their training, that¿s their job.

DS
00:21:49 What about when you were flying around the moon in the command module and you had a little time to look at the Earth and reflect? 00:21:58

MC
00:21:59 From the moon the Earth, well first, where is the Earth? You look out your window and it¿s not there and you look out a second and a third window and it¿s still not there and you may have to wheel and turn a little bit to bring the Earth into view. Now that¿s a startling beginning because here we are on this seemingly flat solid surface down here we¿re accustomed to knowing exactly where the Earth is and to not know where it is is a starling thing in itself. Then when you see it, of course, your first impression is how tiny it is, the Earth as seen from the moon is about the same size as your thumbnail say if you hold your arm out at full length in front f you and you have an average size thumb and an average sized thumbnail that¿s about how big the Earth appears to be from the Moon. So first you can¿t find it and second it¿s tiny when you do find it. Third, you can¿t see any sign of human habitation. It¿s even difficult to see any signs of land. You tend more to see of the blue of the oceans and the white of the clouds. And then fourth, it¿s very, very bright, very shiny, the sun bounces off of it and it gleams. It gleams like an extremely bright little beacon luring you, beckoning you back home.

DS
00:23:37 Do you ever think about that sight or dream about it? 00:23:49

MC
00:23:50 No, I never dream about the moon. I dream about flying airplanes. Even though I don¿t actively fly myself anymore in airplanes, a couple of times a week I¿ll have some version of an airplane dream but I¿ll practically never have a space dream.

DS
00:24:12 You talked about some of the personal changes that space made on you. ? 00:24:42

MC
00:24:44 Well one of the¿ Where to start¿ ?

DS
00:25:04 Let¿s go on, we¿ve talked a little bit about our future in space, put into perspective where we are in space exploration. 00:25:32

MC
00:25:33 Well when the history of this planet gets written, maybe it¿s already been written, I don¿t know. But let¿s say when the history of this planet is written, the fact that people went from Earth to their little satellite, the moon. That¿s not going to be, I don¿t think, a notable accomplishment that would be expected. The historians would say ¿Well of course they did, what else would you do?¿ I think that it is inevitable that we will go out into space with people and I think that that first step of Armstrong¿s onto the moon, while certainly significant will not really be an extremely important step. I think that where we end up, Mars and beyond, that will be important, the kind of society we created here on Earth. Why we wanted to go or leave Earth or why we didn¿t, those will be important, no the fact that we went out in the ocean, up to the top of mountains, down to the bottom of our oceans, to the moon, our own satellites I don¿t think those things will be too important.

DS
00:26:51 When the Old World countries began colonizing the New World there was competition. Will space be militarized? 00:27:14

MC
00:27:15 Well I think that one of the wonderful things about the few space expeditions that we¿ve had so far is that they were peaceful expeditions. Armstrong didn¿t carry a revolver out on to the surface of the moon, this was a one of the few major expeditions in the history of our planet that was carried out without weapons. I think that¿s a nice thing and I think that will continue. I don¿t think that the exploration of space is inherently an antagonistic or a militaristic venture. I think quite the opposite. I think, I hope it will continue to be as it had, a relatively peaceful and benign form of exploration.

DS
00:28:07 What are you doing now? In the history of exploration space is the ultimate frontier right? 00:28:39

MC
00:28:40 I¿m a great admirer of Sylvia Earle and her newest project which is called ¿The Sustainable Seas Expeditions¿¿[ talking about Sylvia Earle and her expeditions] I think we definite should be paying more attention to the health of our own plant but I don¿t think that that contradicts and urge to see that planet from a great , great distance, say from the millions of miles away that Mars is. So I don¿t think that exploration, inner space if you will, exploration with a microscope, exploration by virtue of an expedition to Mars I don¿t think that these things contradict each other, I think they help each other, you learn from one certain facets of the space program, space craft design can be applied to underwater submarines and so on. [VG] I think that exploration, the acquisition of new knowledge about who we are and where we are and what¿s around us. I think all these things are part of one whole and an extremely important whole for us humans.

DS
00:30:26 What draws you to the ocean? 00:30:28

MC
00:30:29 I love the ocean, I always have from the time I was a little kid. I liked to hold my breath and stick my head under and see what¿s down there. I¿m fascinated by what¿s down there I¿m fascinated by the variety of marine life. I¿m saddened today by the decrease in quality of the coastal waters.. {talking about his hobbies in the coastal waters of Florida and the importance of preservation of the Oceans and his involvement with Sylvia Earle}

Close Title