Carrying the Fire now weightless

16 July 1969: Collins suiting up in a frame from this year’s “Apollo 11” documentary film

Mike Collins, Command Module Pilot of Apollo 11, wrote what is considered one of if not the best of the astronaut memoirs, Carrying the Fire, originally published in 1974. It’s finally been released as an ebook, so I’m rereading it in its weightless form now. If you read it after watching his recent hour-plus Aero-Astro classes at MIT here, it’s quickly obvious that he had no ghostwriter for this book – a rarity in such memoirs. It’s fully and delightfully in his own voice.

Gemini and Apollo astronauts underwent both tropical and desert survival training in case they reentered – or aborted during launch phase – away from recovery forces and ended up in entirely the wrong place; cold weather training wasn’t needed because the orbital mechanics of Gemini and Apollo flights dictated paths near the equator. Wrapping up the narrative of his Air Force tropical survival school training in Panama, he has this to say in the book:

“Somewhere along the way I picked up a couple of hundred companions, chiggers, evenly distributed from the waist down. I cannot adequately explain to the unchiggered what they are missing. My dictionary says simply that chiggers are ‘the parasitic larva of certain mites.’ It doesn’t say they are also abominable little red creatures who burrow into your skin, where they ultimately die. Uneasy in their terminal tunnels, they either jump about or dig deeper, or secrete some irritant, or something; at any rate they itch like crazy. Friends are always pleased to offer remedies. ‘Rub them with Scotch and sand. They’ll get drunk and stone each other to death.’ They merely itch worse when they (or you) have a hangover. ‘Have you tried an ice pick?’ The most popular notion (false) is that they can be suffocated, and I have heard doctors recommend covering each spot with clear nail polish. Why clear rather than blush pink (my natural color) I cannot say, but I can say with authority that it doesn’t work either, nor does the iodine-like chigger medicine sold in pharmacies. The only thing to do is wait ten days for the truculent little bastards to die or depart, leaving behind a cratered field of battle not easily forgotten by the landowner.”

“I take back any bad things I ever said about MIT — which I never have.”

The quotation is from Mike Collins, Command Module Pilot of Apollo 11, as their spacecraft entered lunar orbit. He was commenting on how well the computer had controlled their Lunar Orbit Insertion burn, adjusting their course to velocities accurate within a tenth of a foot per second in all three axes – essentially perfect. In full, from the onboard audio recording:

Minus 1, minus 1, plus 1. Jesus! I take back any bad things I ever said about MIT – which I never have.

Collins wrote the best of the astronaut biographies, Carrying the Fire, and he turned 88 today. He’s behind the moon in this crew photo, when all three of them, born in 1930, were 39:

MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics curriculum includes a graduate semester devoted to “Engineering Apollo” – where twenty-six class sessions barely scratch the surface, according to the professor in the first video below – itself one of those twenty-six classes. Collins was a guest there in 2015 and last year.