Michael Collins, the astronaut who flew the Apollo 11 command module while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first landing on the Moon, died last week.
His death was widely reported in the media. It was clear that Collins was a brilliant but very humble, hard working, and good humored man who felt he was very fortunate to have played such an important part in the Apollo 11 mission.
I enjoyed watching old footage of Collins during the mission and of him talking about it afterwards. He was obviously very proud of the role he played and spoke very highly of those he worked with during the mission – in space and on Earth. His role was incredibly important and he spoke of his greatest fear being the very real possibility that something could go wrong and he would have to return to Earth without his crew mates. While Armstrong and Aldrin were on the Moon, Collins was said to be the loneliest person in the universe – he was not even able to watch his crew mates on the Moon like all the people back on Earth did on television. Collins said he did not feel at all lonely and enjoyed the peace and quiet!
On his death, the media (in New Zealand at least) kept framing Collins’ story as ‘so close but yet so far’ or ‘the unlucky astronaut’ or even the ‘forgotten astronaut.’ Collins did not feel this way and it really frustrated me that the media kept pushing this story line.
Collins was a man who was very happy to have played his part in history and has never shown any regret that he was not able to step on the Moon like Armstrong and Aldrin. He said that he would have liked to have stepped on the Moon but he was more than comfortable and very happy playing a role that allowed them to take those steps and get back to Earth. He might have been motivated by them and admired them and even competed against them in some ways but Collins did not seem to compare himself to Armstrong and Aldrin.
Collins’ happiness and success came from being the best he could be and believing that he was contributing to something bigger than himself – not from comparing himself to anyone else.
The online media coverage of Collins’ life is an example of how online culture seems to place more value on how we compare to others than how we contribute to the lives of others. This is very unhelpful in a world with problems that can only be solved by people who are the best they can be working together. It is also very unhelpful in developing in our young people the peace of mind required to achieve real success.
Michael Collins’ life was a life well lived. He made the most of his talents, skills, and interests and used them to work with others to make the world a better place. He experienced success on his own terms and that made him (and a lot of other people) happy. Like Collins, all students should experience success at school on their own terms and leave school knowing that comparing their lives to others will not bring as much happiness and success as contributing to the lives of others.
Storr, W. (2019). Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us (1st ed.). Harry N. Abrams.