Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins recollects looking up a the sky as a child, seeing “the most marvelous things up there” and wanting to know more about them, he told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. That’s when he knew that he wanted to fly.
Collins came from a military family. His father and brother were Army generals, and his uncle was the Army chief of staff. He decided to “sneak off” to the US Air Force instead.
In 1961, Collins was a student at the Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. That year, President John F. Kennedy said that the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and return him safely to Earth, Collins remembers clearly.
Collins and about 80% of his companions were “gung-ho,” he recalled. NASA and the idea of the Mercury and Gemini programs, which set up for the Apollo program, were attractive, and the space program seemed like a promotion. The other 20% would rather fly and test new airplanes for the Air Force rather than getting “locked up in a capsule and shot off like a round of ammunition,” Collins stated.
Collins, a fighter pilot for four years, graduated flight school at age 22. He “flunked out” the first time he applied to the space program. He says there are 15 or 20 reasons why he might have flunked, but he likes to tell the story of the famed Rorschach inkblots mishap during his psychiatric exam.