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Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys Paperback – 7 Jul 2009
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"Collins tells what his space journeys meant to him as a human being [and] discusses the role of man amid the multitudinous mechanical marvels . . . Profoundly affecting." --"The New Yorker
""Michael Collins can write . . . No other person who has flown in space has captured the experience so vividly." --Henry S.F. Cooper, Jr., "The New York Times Book Review"
About the Author
Michael Collins flew in both the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 space missions in the 1960s. He currently lives in South Florida.
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I had to put the book down at times just to revel in it and enjoy the moments.
One thing which does come out of it is: what do you do with your life after it has reached such a unique, unrepeatable peak? He touches on this too. It's not surprising that all 3 astronauts never flew again.
Another thing is: the enormous influence that the astronauts had on the conduct of the entire enterprise. I get the feeling, from reading about later programs eg the space shuttle, that later on 'managers' and administrators started to take over, which coincided (?) with the devaluation and essentially fizzling out of the manned space programs.
The book was written in 1974, Collins having retired from Nasa in January 1970, just a few months after Buzz Aldrin. I suppose there is not much challenge left to a man who had flown to the Moon though I had always felt it must have been disappointing for Collins to have gone all that way and not set foot on the surface. I now know different, Collins was offered further flights and it is likely he would have commanded Apollo 17 had he opted to remain with Nasa though this book reveals just how tough, in particular on the families of the Astronauts, and dangerous the job was. Today we look back on Apollo and tend to forget those Astronauts lost in flying accidents (most were test pilots and continued to fly during training) or on Apollo 1 and the near fatal Apollo 13 flight (I vividly remember following 13 at Primary school) perhaps we see it with rose-tinted hindsight. That the families, lacking hindsight, could not know that there would be no more losses until Challenger, along with the intense training regime with weeks spent in Florida whilst families were housed in Houston, brings the realisation that intense dedication for even these high flyers was required and it also shows why individual astronauts flew only a few missions each.
By the time he joined the Astronaut programme, Michael Collins had already ejected from an F86 and had been a test pilot with the USAF. Selected as an Astronaut, he details here the training programmes that were to prepare him for his 1st flight and Spacewalk aboard Gemini 10, itself a stepping stone to JFK’s challenge to the USA to set a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the 1960s. On the Gemini mission, John Young manoeuvred the capsule to rendezvous and dock with an Agena engine pre-placed in orbit and used it to boost them to a new height record. Collins describes the techniques of piloting the craft and the concerns during that flight of fuel burn, his sore knee – caused by the bends – and the spacewalk he completed before successful re-entry and pick up.
Moving on to Apollo was a whole new ball game and initially a tragic one as one of Collins’ first acts with the programme was to break the news of her husband’s death in the Apollo 1 capsule fire to Martha Chaffee. During 1968, Collins noticed that his legs were not working as they should, then as he walked down stairs, his knee would almost give way. His left leg also had unusual sensations when in hot and cold water. Reluctantly he sought medical advice and the diagnosis was a cervical disc herniation, requiring two vertebrae to be fused together. The surgery was followed by 3 months in a neck brace thus removing him from the crew of Apollo 9 but ironically paving the way for his participation in Apollo 11 as crews were juggled! Perhaps the most fortuitous injury in history.
The Apollo 11 mission record starts, appropriately, with Chapter 11 and takes from here until the end of the book. The training regimes, different for Collins who would remain on the Command Module and Armstrong and Aldrin who would take the LM, are detailed from here on as are minute details such as the design of the mission patch to big issues such as Collins noting on launch that Armstrong’s clothing was uncomfortably near the abort handle, to the landing of Eagle and Collin’s attempts to spot the LM whilst orbiting all are well told. As the 1st mission to land on the moon the 6-week quarantine period after landing is also recorded though Collins is suitably sceptical to its efficacy if they had been contaminated by moon bugs. The Apollo 11 mission is fascinating in the telling as well as the fact.
My edition of the book was the 2001 edition with a Foreword by Charles Lindbergh (yes that one). My only criticism of the book is that the quality of the photos was not great as they were printed on the same paper as the text rather than on photographic paper this is a shame as the Nasa has some superb colour shots of both Gemini 10 and Apollo 11. Having said that this doesn’t detract from the story. In addition to the text there are a number of tables comparing the different flights of each programme and sketch drawings throughout the book to explain some of the more technical concepts – though nothing here is hard to understand.
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