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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 1°C
NASA/Frank Michaux/Associated Press Michael Collins, right, speaks to Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana at Launch Complex 39A
One Small Step

Astronaut Michael Collins returns to Apollo 11 launch site 50 years to the day since mission lifted off

Collins spoke at length about his experience on the mission and about NASA’s next moon programme.

APOLLO 11 ASTRONAUT Michael Collins returned to the exact spot where he flew to the moon 50 years ago with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin today.

Collins, who had the spotlight to himself following a cancellation by Aldrin and the death of Armstrong in 2012, said he wished his two moonwalking colleagues were there to share the moment at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A.

“[It's a] wonderful feeling to be back,” the 88-year-old said on NASA TV.

“There’s a difference this time. I want to turn and ask Neil a question and maybe tell Buzz Aldrin something, and of course, I’m here by myself.”

At NASA’s invitation, Collins marked the precise moment — 9.32am on 16 July, 1969 — that the Saturn V rocket blasted off.

He was seated at the base of the pad alongside Kennedy’s director, Robert Cabana, a former space shuttle commander.

Collins recalled the tension surrounding the crew that day.

“Apollo 11… was serious business. We, crew, felt the weight of the world on our shoulders.

“We knew that everyone would be looking at us, friend or foe, and we wanted to do the best we possibly could,” he said.

Collins never made it to the moon, because he remained in lunar orbit, tending to the Columbia ship while Armstrong and Aldrin landed in the Eagle on 20 July, 1969, and spent two and a half hours walking on the lunar surface.

The reunion kicked off a week of celebrations marking each day of Apollo 11′s eight-day voyage, and NASA televised the original launch video of Apollo 11, timed down to the second.

Collins also spoke about NASA’s next programme to land on the moon, Artemis, named after the twin sister of Greek mythology’s Apollo.

The agency plans to put the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024.

Collins said he likes the name Artemis and, even more, likes the concept behind Artemis.

“But I don’t want to go back to the moon,” he said. “I want to go direct to Mars. I call it the JFK Mars Express.”

Collins noted that the moon-first crowd has merit to its argument and he pointed out Armstrong himself was among those who believed returning to the moon “would assist us mightily in our attempt to go to Mars”.

With reporting from Associated Press.

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