TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — One of the three Apollo 11 astronauts died this week. Michael Collins died at the age of 90. Only Buzz Aldrin is still alive.
Our area played a key role in training Michael Collins to make the mission a success.
As Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, Michael Collins was orbiting overhead. As command module pilot he was their ride home.
A key part of his voyage passed through the Tucson area.
Five years before his moon mission. He was at Kitt Peak Observatory, using its powerful McMath Pierce telescope. It was built to study the sun but Bill Buckingham of Kitt Peak says could bring in great views of the moon too.
“The solar telescope is also a fantastic observatory for projecting huge images of the moon. And that is what they actually spent a good chunk of their time observing was the moon, enlarge to an image of about three feet across.”
Collins signature appears on the Kitt Peak logbook. Kitt Peak has photos of other astronauts doing their own moon surface studies there.
Buckingham says when Collins was at the observatory in 1964 he didn’t know he’d be on a moon mission. He hadn’t been assigned yet. He was doing more basic research, but in a few years, views of the moon even better than he saw at Kitt Peak would be outside his capsule window.
“He did 30 orbits of the moon, while Neil and Buzz were in the lunar module. One of the things that he was instructed to do was to try to spot the lunar module on the surface of the moon, so he had to know the topography, or the geography of the lunar surface just as well as Neil and Buzz. “
With his crewmates on the Moon, Collins spent a day orbiting by himself. He said he never felt lonely and never felt he had a lesser role than the men who walked on the surface. He knew he was an essential part of the mission’s success.