To the Moon and Beyond!

Michael Collins
Michael Collins (NASA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Jim Brace-Thompson

News hit the stands recently about two of our close celestial neighbors, the Moon and Mars. Sadly, Michael Collins, the third member of the fabled Apollo 11 crew, passed away on April 28, 2021, at age 90. As a kid, I compiled a big scrapbook with newspaper clippings of the Apollo Moon missions in the 1960s and early 70s. That scrapbook is lovingly stored in an antique Swedish chest in my current living room, so this loss is personal.

Michael was what you might classically call “the odd man out” in that he never set foot on the Moon alongside Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during that historic mission. Instead, he was charged with the vital task of steering the command module in an orbit 60 miles above the lunar surface to ensure that all three astronauts could dock and return safely to Earth, thereby fulfilling the inspiring words of a young President John F. Kennedy.

A modest man, whenever gazing at the moon in the many years thereafter, Michael Collins always marveled, “Hey, I’ve been there!” And like all Apollo astronauts, he was greatly taken and entranced by the searing image of Earth as an all-too-fragile, blue-and-white gem dangling in the vast black depths of space.

The moon is being eyed once again, this time as a way-station to Mars, and on the surface of Mars, history was made yet again with lift-off on April 22, 2021, of Ingenuity. This drone helicopter arrived on the Red Planet aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover. The debut journey of the first drone on another planet lasted a mere 51.9 seconds and involved a distance of 17 feet. Does this sound disappointingly slight? Well, consider: the first flight of the Wright brothers’ airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903, lasted only 12 seconds and covered 120 feet. Progress, most often, is made seconds and inches at a time. It is perseverance that makes the difference! Fittingly enough, a small piece of that first Wright Brothers airplane was tucked on board Ingenuity as one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!

Author: Jim Brace-Thompson

JimBraceThompson Jim began and oversees the AFMS Badge Program for kids and has been inducted into the National Rockhound & Lapidary Hall of Fame within their Education Category.
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