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Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journey

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NASA astronaut Michael Collins trained as an experimental test pilot before venturing into space as a vital member of the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions. In Carrying the Fire, his account of his voyages into space and the years of training that led up to them, Collins reveals the human tensions, the physical realities, and the personal emotions surrounding the early years of the space race. Collins provides readers with an insider's view of the space program and conveys the excitement and wonder of his journey to the moon. As skilled at writing as he is at piloting a spacecraft, Collins explains the clash of personalities at NASA and technical aspects of flight with clear, engaging prose, withholding nothing in his candid assessments of fellow astronauts Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, and Buzz Aldrin, and officials within NASA. A fascinating memoir of mankind's greatest journey told in familiar, human terms, Carrying the Fire is by turns thrilling, humorous, and thought-provoking, a unique work by a remarkable man.

478 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1974

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About the author

Michael Collins

19 books72 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Michael Collins was a former American astronaut and test pilot. Selected as part of the third group of fourteen astronauts in 1963, he flew in space twice. His first spaceflight was Gemini 10, in which he and command pilot John Young performed two rendezvous with different spacecraft and Collins undertook two EVAs. His second spaceflight was as the command module pilot for Apollo 11. While he orbited the Moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first manned landing on the lunar surface.

During his day flying solo around the Moon, Collins never felt lonely. Although it has been said "not since Adam has any human known such solitude", Collins felt very much a part of the mission. In his autobiography he wrote "this venture has been structured for three men, and I consider my third to be as necessary as either of the other two". In the 48 minutes of each orbit when he was out of radio contact with the Earth while Columbia passed round the far side of the Moon, the feeling he reported was not fear or loneliness, but rather "awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation"

After spending so much time with the CSM, Collins felt compelled to leave his mark on it, so during the second night following their return from the Moon, he went to the lower equipment bay of the CM and wrote:

"Spacecraft 107 – alias Apollo 11 – alias Columbia. The best ship to come down the line. God Bless Her. Michael Collins, CMP"

After retiring from NASA in 1970, Collins took a job in the Department of State as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. A year later, he became the director of the National Air and Space Museum, and held this position until 1978, when he stepped down to become undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1980, he took a job as vice president of LTV Aerospace. He resigned in 1985 to start his own consulting firm. Along with his Apollo 11 crewmates, Collins was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2011.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 603 reviews
Profile Image for Rebecca.
1,215 reviews106 followers
April 3, 2012
Collins notes early on in this book that he chose to eschew the services of a ghostwriter, apologizing that the prose will not be as polished as a result. It was a wise choice.

Collins' voice is friendly and straightforward, eminently likeable. He has little interest in delving into deep psychological analysis or talking much at all about his personal life, choosing instead to focus on his path, and NASA's, to the moon. Self-deprecating humor and a profound appreciation for the contributions of the people surrounding him keeps the tone light and prevents any trace of boasting as he recounts a remarkable career.

The details really are fascinating. I knew a lot of the history, having been an enormous space buff as a child, but there's a difference in hearing it from a personal perspective. The Apollo 1 fire, for example, skips any of the gruesome descriptions that other works have lingered on--these were people he knew well and Collins has no interest in describing their deaths in detail. His perspective is that of the only person available to drive out and tell one of the dead men's wives before she can hear it from the media. It brings a different perspective.

Other details are just amusing. I'd known that the astronauts were quarantined upon their return. I had not realized they were essentially loaded up in a shipping container with a big window and shipped, flown, and finally driven home by flatbed truck like a cargo of zoo animals. It was a hilarious image.

Some technical details are discussed, but only to give context to conversations. Politics is ignored almost completely, as is most of the situation with the Russians. And if you're looking for deep insights into the personalities of Collins and his fellow adventurers, you'll find little direct information here. As Collins himself points out, if they had wanted emoting on cue, they shouldn't have picked test pilots. Collins himself writes like what he is--an intelligent, practical man who was perfectly suited to keep a calm head and somewhat less suited to wax rhapsodic. (He also expresses a classic Playboy-style appreciation for attractive women and martinis that's somewhat startling these days, but the book was written in the 70s, after all.) But he also sells himself a bit short, self-deprecating as always--this work is engaging, articulate, endearing, and ultimately fascinating.
Profile Image for ^.
907 reviews61 followers
April 29, 2015

Here is the book to convince every fourteen year old that a sound practical knowledge of the language of maths and engineering is both enormously exciting and career liberating. How very different our world would be today if we employed many more research engineers (in which I include test pilots turned astronauts) than self-obsessed bankers!

This is a book to read and re-read. This is a book I cherish.

This is not merely a book on how Man realised his dream of landing on our Moon. Instead it is a description of how an awesome number of skilled people came and successfully worked together to realise an expensive political and technological dream. I learnt something too about Project Mercury, the predecessor of Gemini and Apollo; and by happy chance a few days ago picked up a copy of “Into Orbit” (written by the ‘Mercury Seven” astronauts) in a second-hand bookshop.

Relatively early on Collins hilariously describes the wondrous training he received in the geology of (Earth) rocks, and in personal survival techniques. I was entirely unable to read this section without sniggers of suppressed, and hoots of open, laughter. Hilarity eventually subsided, whereupon I discovered space to soberly consider the very real difficulties of actually defining training for the unknown and unexpected.

I was deeply moved by Collins sensitive, considerate and factually concise discussion of the horrendous spacecraft fire in January 1967 aboard Apollo 1 on the launch-pad at Cape Kennedy; which killed Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. Collins was deeply affected by the realisation that everyone had overlooked such an obvious risk (combustible oxygen inside the spacecraft at 16psi: slightly above atmospheric pressure), and had thus not been evaluated. As throughout his book, Collins is realistic and mature in recognising the human tendency to react by laying blame, before maturity and sense muscle in to define and solve the problem. However, achingly and tellingly, he succinctly speaks of ‘the dismal months of early 1967’, proving that few words carry more meaning than many.

In chapter 11 Collins describes how essential training on a simulator was to the success of space flight. It is vitally important nowadays to remember that this was 1960s ‘bathtub’ technology: punched cards, a budget of millions of dollars, and hundreds of maintenance technicians working in three shifts. He dryly remarks that at times it seemed easier to fly the actual spaceship! Later on Collins, Armstrong, and Aldrin are as equally amazed as each other by the perfection in accuracy achieved by the operational system in placing them in a near-circular lunar orbit. Such ‘childish’ and simple joy is infectious.

Collins could have chosen to keep a tight technical focus in his description of the flight of Apollo 11 mission. He intelligently does not do so; instead opting to draw the attention of his reader to what this extraordinary mission meant to other earth-bound members of the human population. Any list of the more off-beat examples must surely include Houston’s reading of the daily news to the astronauts. On 20th July 1969 this included an ‘instruction’ to look out for a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-O who four thousand years previously had been banished, accompanied by a rabbit, to the Moon. Her crime had been to steal the secret of immortality from her husband. The rabbit was claimed to be easy to spot because he always stood upright on his hind legs, under the shade of a cinnamon tree! Collins masterly desists from directly pouring cold water on such an absurdity; he instead applies the art of diplomatic prioritisation: deciding that the simultaneous purge of a fuel cell, setting up a camera & brackets, and monitoring an auto manoeuvre really do require his full attention above and over that of spotting a rabbit! Shades of the 1950 film “Harvey”, starring James Stewart, perhaps? Whether Armstrong and Aldrin kept a weather-eye open for the Moon rabbit is (rightly) not recorded.

Overall, this book is a supreme narrative of technological achievement and human wonderment in hardware, software, and ‘man-ware’ (and I include women and children within that last term). Alone in Columbia, behind the Moon & out of contact with Earth, Armstrong and Aldrin, Collins describes his absolute isolation:

“I feel this powerfully – not as fear or loneliness – but as awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation. I like the feeling.” [pg. 402].

If I had read those words before reading this book I should not have understood what he meant. But now I think I may do.

Michael Collins is multilingual. He communicates in written English supremely well. How many men and women ‘of letters’ possess a comparable ability to express themselves in the fields and languages of science and engineering? It’s a rare combination. Collins is also a remarkably modest man, blessed with both a firm sense of responsibility and the most wonderful dry sense of humour. He is a true team player, but, importantly, one whose maturity, skills and talents fully justify his personal sense of worth and purpose.

Every school library in Britain ought to possess a copy of this book.
Profile Image for Tim.
201 reviews39 followers
May 27, 2018
This is probably the best non-fictional book I've ever read. On nearly five hundred elated, honest, vivid and detail-filled pages Michael Collins wraps up his brilliant career as a USAF test pilot, engineer and NASA astronaut on both the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions. Being very humble, Collins confesses that he thinks he never possessed extreme talent or expertise in any of the necessary fields of becoming an astronaut (I'm sure he did though), and that his career was rather an excellent throw of the dice, having a lot of luck throughout two decades, even when unfortunate occasions came his way (like spinal surgery just before his designated first flight with Apollo 9, shifting him to Apollo 11).

The greatest parts are when the reader is taken aboard his two space flights, on Gemini 10 in 1966 (including a difficult EVA and orbital docking), and eventually on humanity's biggest stunt in history, the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the Moon (where Collins piloted the command/service module (Columbia), solo-orbiting while Aldrin and Armstrong touched down on the surface with Eagle). Collins shows his excellent command of bringing down those events to paper - and by including both technical details (like orbital mechanics) and the depth of emotions he was going through, thus making the book a fascinating and precious read.

The author also sheds light on the more philosophical side of humanity's space exploration, including many pages of his own thoughts about the world in 1974, back when he wrote the book. Many of those thoughts and gentle warnings about fossil fuels and human waste have become a reality, and the book is as relevant today as it has ever been.

Highly readable, a classic for both the technically interested and anyone looking for pure inspiration to achieve more in life. Collins' honesty throughout the book is what makes it so remarkable. One of my favourite passages is within the closing chapter of the book:

It is perhaps a pity that my eyes have seen more than my brain has been able to assimilate or evaluate, but like the Druids of Stonehenge, I have attempted to bring order out of what I have observed, even if I have not understood it fully.
Profile Image for Leo.
4,381 reviews405 followers
March 10, 2022
Bit of a longer audiobook about 20 hours but well worth listening to. Very informative and interesting. Recommend it to people being intrigued by space and astronauts!
Profile Image for Scott Foshee.
206 reviews6 followers
March 26, 2014
If You Read Just One Book By An Astronaut, Make It This One

I am a space buff and have read many good accounts of the space program, including Andrew Chaikin’s amazing “A Man on the Moon,” which should be required reading for everyone interested in these genera. As for books written by astronauts, “Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys” by Michael Collins is probably the best I have read along with Jim Lovell’s “Lost Moon,” aka “Apollo 13.” An important point to make right off the bat is that Collins had no co-author on this project as many do. He did it all himself, and let me tell you, he can write.

Michael Collins, for those of you who don’t know, was the third astronaut on Apollo 11, the one who stayed up and flew the command module while Neil and Buzz got all the press making the first moon landing. Some may think that the Command Module Pilot got the short end of the stick because he didn’t actually get to land on the moon, but Collins doesn’t see it that way. “I know that I would be a liar or a fool if I said that I have the best of the three Apollo 11 seats, but I can say with truth and equanimity that I am perfectly satisfied with the one I have. This venture has been structured for three men, and I consider my third to be as necessary as either of the other two.” He probably could have stuck around after Apollo 11 and walked on the moon as Commander on Apollo 17, but his experiences on Apollo 11 and Gemini 10 were enough, and he was content to walk away.

I particularly enjoyed the behind the scenes look at things you don’t usually see in the space program, such as the frustrations of training, quarantine before and after the mission, honest personal and humanizing views of other astronauts, and dealing with the often overwhelming worldwide public relations required by the job.

Collins is funny and self-deprecating. When asked what he was thinking about while Neil and Buzz were making history walking on the moon, he replied, “I just kept reminding myself that every single component in this spacecraft was provided by the guy who submitted the cheapest tender.”

Collins makes everything interesting, from his early career in the Air Force, through the early astronaut selection process (from which he was rejected), to his work in the development of the Gemini and Apollo EVA suits (and the little old ladies tasked to hand-glue the pieces together in the David Clark Company factory in Worcester, Massachusetts).

There is an especially interesting section where Collins and Dave Scott are sent to the Paris Air Show in May, 1967. There, at the height of the space race and cold war with the USSR, they meet and find much in common with “the competition,” Soviet cosmonauts Pavel Belyaev and Konstantin Feoktistov. “In Belyaev we found a kindred spirit. I liked him, and I would have flown with him.” These are honest and courageous words for a man of Collins’ stature to put into print in 1974. Open encounters like these may have helped lay the foundation for the joint U.S./Russia International Space Station missions we have today.

What really sets this book apart from other “astronaut books” are Collins’ intelligent, candid, and self-depreciating observations about astronaut life (no chest beating here), and the breathless minute-by-minute accounts of both his Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions. I wasn’t too familiar with Gemini 10, and was fascinated by his interactions with John Young, their two rendezvous with two different Agena Target Vehicles, and Collins’ two EVAs. For the EVAs, he has to maneuver using a nitrogen gun and practices while standing on a disk in a space the size of a boxing ring set up like an air hockey table. For his first EVA he stands up in the Gemini cockpit with the doors open and feels like a “Roman god riding the skies in his chariot.” His second EVA is successful, but Collins makes no bones about how dicey it actually is. He applies to NASA for travel reimbursement after the flight and receives a grand total of $24.

While alone circling the moon in the Command module of Apollo 11, he knows he is alone in a way no other human has ever been before. Not only does he have to be prepared for his role in the mission, but he also has to train to make it back to Earth alone in case of the very real possibility that Neil and Buzz do not make it back from the moon alive. When he circles to the dark side of the moon alone, he is truly alone. “I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God only knows what on this side. I feel this powerfully – not as fear or loneliness – but as awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation. I like the feeling.”

Collins speaks frankly about the difficulty some astronauts have, upon their return, of preventing the rest of their lives from being an anticlimax. There is also the temptation of easy money. “There is money hanging around, but it is tainted PR money, trading great piles of greenbacks for tiny bits of soul, in an undetermined but unsatisfactory ratio. For example, I have been offered $50,000 to do beer commercials, and I love beer, but somehow it seems a grubby thing to do…. So I remain flat broke, and I rationalize it by saying that it is a good thing, that it forces me to focus on the future, and that it keeps me lean and hungry in my outlook.” This, in a world today where many young people don’t even know what selling out means.

Michael Collins is a man of integrity, insight, and humility often lacking in today’s public figures. “Carrying the Fire” is excellent. It is well written, moving, engaging, funny, and very personal. If you read just one book by an astronaut, make it this one. Very highly recommended.
Profile Image for Ian.
407 reviews81 followers
March 23, 2022
* Updated. Changes Wording For Accuracy *
4.0⭐Terrific autobiography. The "warts and all" memoir of Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins- he was the one who had to stay in the car ( Command Module ) while the other guys went to the moon.

It's been a while since I read it (44 years) but big chunks of it have stayed with me; his military and test pilot career; the astronaut selection process and then life in public eye; the interpersonal relationships of the Apollo crew, the mission, and life after the moon - he describes starting a new, government job" like a pig on roller skates."

Collins has an open and engaging style. He didn't use a ghost writer and it shows in the way he connects with the reader. The book's been called the best ever written by an astronaut- I can't attest to that but it's very good. What I liked about it is how Collins describes NASA and Apollo 11 as above all human endeavors and achievements- it's all about the people. It's still in print (which tells you something right there), with a 50th anniversary edition having been released. Highly recommended. -30-
Profile Image for Daniel Villines.
396 reviews54 followers
December 7, 2022
Carrying the Fire is a must-read for anyone who is enthusiastic about the mid 20th century effort to fly men to the Moon. Michael Collins writes of his personal experiences as a test pilot, Gemini astronaut, and the Lunar Module Pilot for the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Along the way, he provides his insights into the major events that transpired in the space program during his time with NASA.

While the book may come across as a bit dry at times, I saw this as a credit to Collins ability to write about his own life in a clear and objective way. His story is intended to supplement the factual record with his human experiences. There’s no underlying effort to self-promote or hype his life. Rather, he is plainly honest about about his involvement with the space program and his impressions of his fellow astronauts. He lets the excitement, interest, and awe of his experiences originate in the minds of his readers based on the acts that he calmly describes.

As its core, Carrying the Fire is a story about adventure, exploration, and discovery. For this reason, it has a universal human appeal that is rooted in our very composition. Humanity has never stood still. We’ve always ventured off to see for ourselves what lies hidden in next frontier. Michael Collins takes us with him on just such a journey.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,819 reviews1,375 followers
June 21, 2020
A surprisingly well written, candid and informative account of his career, by the Command Module pilot on the epochal Apollo 11 flight; a book I read at night with my daughter (who is fascinated by peopled space flight).
Profile Image for Christopher.
171 reviews36 followers
April 28, 2021
Carrying the Fire is the memoir of Michael Collins, who was command module pilot on Apollo 11, the first human lunar landing mission. More than forty years after its first publication, it is still the gold standard of Apollo astronaut bios. Collins has a real feel for writing, compared with his colleagues, most of whom have written very dryly. (It is also worth noting that Collins is one of the very few astronauts--maybe the only one--who wrote without the need for a collaborator.) He was known in the astronaut corps for his casual professionalism. Collins is frequently witty, funny, self-deprecating, and he's unafraid to level withering criticisms at some of the madness of being an astronaut. His description of an astronaut's worst nightmare--going around the country on speaking gigs to promote the space program, which he calls being 'in the barrel'--is especially memorable.

Collins is the astronaut who wrote that he and his test pilot brethren were ill-suited to be the public faces needed to communicate the thrills and beauty of being in space--he thought that job would be better off in the hands of 'priests, poets and philosophers.' But of course, Collins puts it so much more eloquently than I can muster.

He also shares, with his characteristic candor but not a hint of melancholy, his unprecedented isolation while his Apollo 11 crewmates journeyed to the lunar surface. As he circled the moon alone in the command module Columbia, Collins was further from human contact than any person had ever been in history. He also understood that if a critical emergency stranded his crewmates on the moon, it would have been his duty to leave them and come home alone--a monumental task he says he was prepared to do.

The only other astronaut bios that come anywhere close to Collins are Walter Cunningham's gossipy The All-American Boys; and from the space shuttle era, Mike Mullane's frat-boyish Riding Rockets. If you're looking to find out what makes astronauts tick, you could read all three of those, along with Tom Wolfe's essential treatise The Right Stuff, and I think you'll have a very good understanding of what it means to be an astronaut--especially one from the old school. But don't miss Collins. There's none better among his peers.
Profile Image for Bruce.
Author 13 books230 followers
June 6, 2019
One of the first, and still the best, of the astronaut books: matter-of-fact, funny, precise, and whimsical, all in one. A must-read for any space enthusiast.
11 reviews6 followers
March 27, 2014
Out of the several NASA-related books I've read, this was my favorite. It was written in 1974, so the subject matter of space flight was a lot fresher on Collins's mind compared to a lot of NASA biographies that were written in the 2000s. I think that gives the book a more lively feel than other biographies, since the Apollo program had just wound down and he could still recall things vividly. And Collins wrote it without a ghostwriter, which is pretty impressive since his writing is very good. He's also surprisingly funny. He gives a lot of insight into the personalities of the other astronauts and he isn't shy about giving his opinions about them. I knew next to nothing about Collins (other than the obvious things) before reading this, but it's written so well that I now have a better grasp on his personality and experiences than I do for any other astronaut (or any other historical figure for that matter). I give it five waning gibbous moons out of five.
Profile Image for kris.
940 reviews193 followers
January 20, 2023
Michael Collins has sometimes been called the loneliest man alive (known for this picture of all people of Earth in July 1969 except Mike Collins himself) or sometimes the forgotten third astronaut of Apollo 11—pilot of the Command and Service Module (CSM), left behind to circle the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin landed on its desolate surface.

In Carrying the Fire, Collins humbly and humorously describes his own personal trajectory towards the moon. From his early days as a pilot to test pilot to astronaut-hopeful to Gemini co-pilot and Apollo crew hopper—Collins lets himself linger over only what seems to confound or delight him: the absurdities of NASA's layered bureaucracies; the strange tension between the astronaut corps as men (often military men) vs. the public personas required by the media and NASA PR; the shocking beauty of the sun rising over an entire goddamned planet while you're sitting hundreds of miles above its surface.

Part of the appeal is the very fact that Collins chooses to tell his story himself, and does so with both the brashness of someone prepared to deal with the fall out (his comments about Aldrin and Armstrong are both polite but revealing) as well as the compassion of someone who cares about what he's talking about (the discussion of the 'the dismal months of early 1967'; his earnest pleading for America to continue to reach for the stars and strive for improvements closer to home). At the heart of it is a real man, doing his best and yet ever so—fragile.

(And as an aside: I'm just honestly shocked they let him fly again after the neck surgery! Like! Go get 'em, tiger!)
Profile Image for Laura.
169 reviews
April 8, 2014
An educational, inspiring read.

Michael Collins never set out to be an Astronaut, or make history, but he did and he did it with determination, humor and a Rocket named Apollo XI.

This book was written when everything we know about Space today, wasn't known then. There was no ISS, there was no high tech laptops and colorful video cameras. Mobile phones today have more advancements than Space did in those times. Yet they managed to send Astronauts to the moon, more than once. Everything back then was new, undiscovered, and spending more than weeks in Space was unheard of, unlike today.

When I picked up this book -and despite the great reviews written about it- I was still hesitant to read it, not because it was another Astronaut autobiography but because it may be filled with terminology I didn't understand, and it was, however, Mike wrote in a way that made these big, unfamiliar words (along with phrases) easy to understand, he explained everything with precise attention to detail, even words you think wouldn't need explaining.

It's not rare to find an honest autobiography but it's rare to find an honest autobiography that wasn't filled with malice or spite. Everyone is curious as to what goes on, and Mike gave us that in a humorous, tactful way. I found him to be humble.

A recommended read, especially to those who are hesitant to pick up a Space book.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
Author 5 books69 followers
November 27, 2012
This is such a fantastic book. Not only does Collins tell it like it is (or rather was), he writes beautifully and is such a personable narrator that I wished the thing could be twice as long as it is.
Profile Image for Liam || Books 'n Beards.
542 reviews50 followers
June 11, 2020
I think the view from 100,000 miles could be invaluable in getting people together to work out joint solutions, by causing them to realise that the planet we share unites us in a way far more basic, and far more important than differences in skin colour or religion or economic systems.
Chapter 14, Carrying the Fire

Late last year I went to see the Apollo 11 docufilm in cinemas, and it reignited an interest in space travel and the Apollo missions in particular that had laid dormant for a long time - I picked up a couple of books, including this one, but my reading was stagnating pretty heavily and so I never got around to them - I just watched a lot of documentaries and played a lot of Kerbal Space Program.

With the recent test launch and of the Demo-2 and docking at the ISS which I watched with rapt interest, along with rewatching the Apollo 11 docufilm, my interest was reignited once again to coincide with my getting a new Audible credit, so I picked Carrying the Fire up after my mate Stairs recommended it.

I very much enjoyed this - the audio is easy listening and well told, and Collins' authorial voice feels very authentic and down to earth (no pun intended). He comes across as an eminently normal guy who just happened to go to space, as if this entire audio book could be a conversation you were having over beers and a schnitzel at the pub - us listening in abject awe as he describes his beginnings as a test pilot, the Gemini missions, and finally the Apollo 11 mission where he remained in orbit over the moon whilst Armstrong and Aldrin went on down.

Collins says early on that he doesn't like the idea of ghost writers because something is always lost in the transmittal from subject to writer to work. In this case I'm very glad that he wrote it himself, it felt like a far more genuine look back at his career than it would have otherwise - I'm sure a ghost writer would have played up the drama of it all while Collins is quick to emphasize that there was nothing really that glamorous about the space program, despite its incredible achievements.

A very interesting listen for sure. I share Collins' desire that we return to the moon, and further - published back in 1974, he was hopeful for the chances of humanity reaching for Mars within his lifetime. He's still going, so I sincerely hope that we can reach that goal for him.
Profile Image for Thom.
1,591 reviews47 followers
February 24, 2021
Described as "the standard by which all other astronaut stories should be measured" and deservedly so. Excellent first-person perspective of the program and two space flights, Mercury 10 and Apollo 11.

Collins employed no ghostwriter, and his clear descriptions of situations and events come through. As a test pilot, he was trained to recall details about the flight, but this is no simple recitation of numbers. The narrative really gives a feel for the astronaut program, both risks and rewards.

For the Apollo 11 flight, I supplemented by listening to https://apolloinrealtime.org/

Though this book weighs in at more than 500 pages, it was hard to put down. I really enjoyed every aspect of this book, easily the best I've read this year.
Profile Image for AltLovesBooks.
392 reviews23 followers
November 29, 2020
I carried the fire for six years, and now I would like to tell you about it, simply and directly as a test pilot must, for the trip deserves the telling.

This was a really good book. Little altlovesbooks wanted to be an astronaut so badly as a kid, until my dad told me I had to join the Air Force. Then I wanted to be an astronomer, but mid-grade altlovesbooks was only passable at math and physics. Adult altlovesbooks now just stares up at the sky and wonders what it's like to be up there and watches SpaceX launches on YouTube. Not quite the same thing, but I'll take what I can get.

Michael Collins, the "third man" of Apollo 11 who stayed behind while the other two astronaut rock stars walked around on the moon, is a talented, engaging writer. He has this sense of pragmatism about him that really made reading about his early days trying to get into the space program, the training once getting in, and the rigors of spaceflight extremely compelling. He's also got a nice way of breaking down complex concepts into easy to understand passages, which is especially nice when talking about something as complex as spaceflight. He's also funny, has a nice, dry humor, and seems really adept at summing up the people and personalities around him. I especially liked the segment, almost an epilogue of sorts, after regaling us about Apollo 11. He goes into detail about where they all ended up and why, about his thoughts on the past and future of the space program, and a general sense of his hopes and wishes for mankind going forward. It was funny, moving, philosophical, and something that's relatable.

This made my favorites of 2020 list, and I'm really glad I spent some time reading it. I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator was extremely easy to listen to. Highly recommend to anyone and everyone.
Profile Image for Matti Karjalainen.
2,850 reviews54 followers
September 20, 2019
Deep down I want to say, read books: if you miss the astronaut thing, you are still prepared well for life. And I really want to add, ditch the phone, skip the movies, and avoid TV. Read newspapers, magazines, and books. That's what I do, but then I don't want to be accused of inculcating (that's a book word) my warped view in the young. (Michael Collins)

Michael Collinsin "Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys" (Pan Books, 2019) on Gemini 10- ja Apollo 11 -lennolle osallistuneen astronautin elämäkerta, jota on päivitetty sopivasti kuulennon viisikymmenvuotisjuhlien kunniaksi. Alun perin kirja ilmestyi jo vuonna 1974.

Collins käy läpi elämäänsä 1950-luvulta kuulennon jälkimaininkeihin asti varsin kiinnostavasti ja hetkittäin myös hauskasti. Vuoden 1966 Gemini-lentoa John Youngin kanssa kuvataan tarkasti - eikä oikeastaan ihme, sillä riittäähän ensimmäisessä avaruuslennossa ja avaruuskävelyssä kerrottavaa!

Kiinnostavaa kyllä, Apollo 11:sta kyytiin päästään vasta sadan viimeisen sivun aikana. Collinsin tehtävänä oli kiertää maapalloa Columbia-komentomoduulissa samaan aikaan kun Neil Armstrong ja Buzz Aldrin laskeutuivat kuun pinnalle. Hän toteaa olleensa varsin tyytyväinen tilanteeseen ja tunteneensa olevansa merkittävä osa kuulentoa, ja kuvailee varsin kiehtovasti tunnetta, jossa kuun toisella puolella on kolme miljardia ihmistä plus kaksi, ja toisella vain hän itse. Jokaisella kierroksella maan ympäri hän menetti 48 minuutin ajaksi yhteyden komentokeskukseen. (s. 402-403).

Collins ei käyttänyt haamukirjailijaa teosta kirjoittaessaan, kuten vaikka Aldrin Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon -teoksessaan. Olin hieman epäileväinen ratkaisun suhteen, etenkin kun astronautit niin usein painottavat olevansa ensisijaisesti lentäjiä eivätkä runoilijoita, jotka osaisivat heitä paremmin kuvata kuuta ja sen aiheuttamia tunne-elämyksiä. Lopputulos on kuitenkin varsin onnistunut ja välillä astronautti sinkoutuu suorastaan kaunokirjalliselle kiertoradalle, kuten kuvatessaan Gemini 7:n laukaisua:

All the months of dispassionate analysis give way to a few minutes of emotion, an outburst of hope and horror as the inert beast comes alive for the first time, shakes itself and its new-found tail of fire, and starts slowly - so slowly - to move. For the first few seconds it is purely a spectacle, for with the eyes alone involved, one can see but not succumb. But when the great crackling Mach 1 roar arrives, and the ground under you shakes, then you are there, you are part of it, and you laugh or cry or yell or whisper.

For six months I had consumed Gemini 7, and now it was consuming me. It was going without me, or at last with only a part of me, at least it appeared to be going, and it was getting help from the crowd. "Go!... Go!.... Go!...." they cried rhytmically. "Go... go.", I whispered, out of phase and with a lump in my throat. "Please go."

And ever more swiftly it did, until it was but a dot in the sky and then gone altogether..."

Lukemiseen vierähti aikamoinen tovi, mikä johtuu osittain siitä, ettei puutteellinen kielitaitoni aina taipunut tekniseen avaruussanastoon ja erilaisten lyhenteiden kanssakin sai olla tarkkana. En kuitenkaan kadu hetkeäkään, "Carrying the Fire" oli niin kannattava ja kiinnostava lukukokemus, että sen parissa kannatti vähän taistellakin. Sääli sinänsä, ettei astronauttien elämäkertoja ole käännetty pahemmin suomeksi!

Jos englanti ei taivu alkuunkaan, niin Collinsin teokseen voi tutustua Valittujen Palojen kirjavaliona, jossa se julkaistiin lyhennelmänä nimellä Kahdesti avaruudessa - astronautin tarina. Näin tiesi kertoa ystävämme Wikipedia!
Profile Image for Claudia Turner.
Author 1 book38 followers
April 21, 2018
While this was written several decades ago it feels timeless and important. Not many people could say they’ve been to space, or the moon, or orbited the moon by themselves- at times the only human in the universe to be on the dark side of the moon- while their companions were walking on its gray sands.

I could say I wanted more- I don’t know what more, maybe more introspection, or poetry- but really for what this is I’m wholly satisfied. I like the stark honesty and detail Collins uses to describe NASA, other astronauts he worked with, even his own somewhat pompous habits of thought that he pokes at with subtle humor. I can’t get enough of astronaut memoirs right now and I think part of that is due to them being both extremely exciting- having an experience and a perspective few could ever imagine- and being written clearly by the actual astronauts and not some editor or ghost writer as is the case for many celebrities and politicians making books these days.

Collins was a military man, an astronaut, and yet also a well-spoken scholar as is apparent with his words when he describes the feeling of being content never to return to space. I feel like he probably read some Hemingway to polish up before typing it out. And he’s still alive today- a fascinating portrait of a space man.

There’s one point in the book where he says unapologetically that he was glad there were no women astronauts at the time because it would be too complicated.... well going to the moon is complicated so this is nonsense. I wish he’d retracted that sentiment. Other than that I like most of his meandering thoughts.
Profile Image for mkfs.
274 reviews24 followers
December 30, 2014
Of the three crewmen for Apollo 11, which is likely to have the most interesting story? The mission commander, first man to set foot on the moon and subsequently a household name? The co-pilot of the lunar module, cheated of glory by being only the second man to walk on the moon? Or the command module pilot, alone in orbit around the moon while the landing progressed, never setting foot on its surface?

Charles Lindbergh believes the latter, and I am inclined to agree with him.

Carrying the Fire is the story of Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 command module pilot, and his career as a test pilot and astronaut. The book does not suffer the fate of early drudgery that befalls most biography: Collins knows that his childhood and family life are of little interest to his readers, so he merely notes that they happened and moves on. This is the tale of his career, the journey of one man through planes and spacecraft and the agencies that build and manage them.

The book is engagingly written and surprisingly introspective. I found the discussions of mission planning to be pretty interesting as well: the amount of forethought put into hazard prevention is astounding, even for one familiar with NASA's legacy of hazard and risk analysis. How do you determine the risks of an unknown yet undoubtedly hostile environment? You get a lot of smart people, do a lot of brainstorming, and be very, very careful.
7 reviews
August 18, 2015
When reaching the last pages of this book I was both eager to read what the last thoughts and conclusions from Collins were, and sad because I wanted more. When I finished reading Carrying the fire, I started questioning the saying "a picture is worth a thousand words". No picture of astronauts, rockets, Moon or Earth can describe the experience of being an astronaut and travelling to space as well as Michael Collins does in this book. Even though it doesn´t depict in much detail the first landing on the Moon - because as it happened he was orbiting it, often in the far side of the Moon with no communication- I never felt any dissapointment. The way he describes the whole process of being selected and training to become an astronaut made me feel so close to it that when the Apollo 11 mission comes into action I felt a lot of that excitement, and a little like I was going to the Moon too.

I´m no expert in writing styles, but in my opinion Michael Collins does a good job in this book. He often uses humour and it´s a little irreverent at some points, but it´s something that I appreciate because he seems honest and doesn´t really brag.

I would say overall is an easy read for anyone who is curious about the subject, although I could see how the first part of the book might seem hard or a little boring for some people. But trust me, it´s worth it to go along with Michael Collins through his story of how he became an astronaut and finally reached the Moon.
Profile Image for Janita.
35 reviews
July 22, 2017
This book was mentioned in a radio interview (available on podcast as ABC program Conversations with Richard Fidler) with the Australian physicist (Prof Brian O'Brien) who worked on the Apollo missions. Richard must have read this book, as he mentioned the book AND the documentary "Shadow of the Moon" to the Professor. This sent me on an Apollo mission binge, and I watched many interviews with Michael Collins on YouTube, and was especially intrigued by his love of literature, even spontaneously erupting into a recital of verses by John Miltons "Paradise Lost", delivered with enough drama to noticeably unnerve the journalist interviewing him. About the same time, I started to read about what is known as 'the Overview Effect'. One of the most appealing aspects of this book is how incredibly pragmatic, low key and low drama the mindset of an astronaut has to be, and Michael Collins certainly is. However, the last chapter of the book Michael Collins reveals his strong emotion, passion, anger, frustration and bewilderment at the mismanagement of the planet he intimately knows and loves. It makes for the type of reading where you want to 'save' it to be reread, or printed and kept in your bedside drawer because his insights are so unique and so eloquently expressed...the perfect combination of a riveting story that is safely in the hands of a capable (well read :-) writer.
Profile Image for Runningrara.
743 reviews5 followers
May 9, 2020
I feel like I could probably pilot an Apollo mission to the moon after reading this. The most detailed account of the programme I've read, with a good dose of 1960's sexism to grate, just in case you were in danger of becoming starstruck by this legendary astronaut.
Profile Image for Palmyrah.
258 reviews61 followers
June 2, 2018
Michael Collins has a fantastic story to tell. He is a fine writer - first class, actually - and a wise and insightful human being. Enough said.
Profile Image for Brian Laslie.
Author 5 books15 followers
October 29, 2018
There is a reason that of every astronaut memoir or biography...this remains the one that they are all measured against.
Profile Image for George Florin.
109 reviews3 followers
February 9, 2022
Coming from an ex-Soviet country which didn't really care much about the space programs, we never really looked up to astronauts, we never really wished to become like them. It was not until recently when I watched Chris Hadfield's Masterclass on what it means to be one that I understood the work involved and the life of such a character. In those videos I heard about this book.

I have read this in a few sittings and at some point I was thinking of leaving it be. The start is a bit slow, maybe the first chapters until he begins the actual astronaut trainings. Afterwards, you will get hooked on his words. But you won't find here any emotions, as he mentions in some chapters. NASA wanted engineers and fighter pilots, not philosophers.

What is interesting though is that you get a way better understanding of the astronaut life, NASA life, and you get a first person view over some of the events that have changed the world in the 60s from a space journey perspective. Starting from the survival training, to Geology classes, up to the hundreds of hours of simulator training that lead up to a launch.

It's also very interesting to see the relations between people while in training, while learning, while flying, as well as after landing. It is a feeling of mine that the crew that landed on the Moon is not the most liked among other astronauts, at least in those days. Mostly because there were many other chances that other astronauts might have been in the lucky crew. For example, if Apollo 1 didn't crash, maybe Apollo 10 would have landed. Or if the Gemini program would have been shorter, Apollo 8 or 9 might have landed. The same goes if more flights would have crashed and the landing would have been postponed to Apollo 14 or 15. So it was a lot of luck there, but the actual event was preceded by years of preparation.

Michael Collins does not go too much into detail when it comes to his relation with Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin. He mentions that Neil was mostly the distant one, while Buzz was a bit more relaxed. But nevertheless, even in the crew there were some frictions. Buzz was supposed to be the first one on the Moon, but then Neil was selected because of logistic ease. In the same time, Michael wasn't that pleased with being left behind orbiting the moon. So all of these created some resentment among them. But work is work and a mission is a mission.

Finally, we can't end this without mentioning the sexist comments he makes quite a lot in the book. On one hand, it was written in 1974. There weren't so many guidelines about how it should be back then. But still this doesn't excuse him. I mean, a man just died and he was thinking of how good that man's wife looked like before giving her the news. BRO, THE MAN JUST DIED!

Still, I give it 5/5 because you get to know more details about the adventure, more about the life of The Loneliest Man in the World and what it means to be part of one of humankind's biggest achievements.
Profile Image for Joe Flynn.
144 reviews8 followers
November 28, 2021
Fascinating insight into the American space program from a unique and amiable perspective.
Mike Collins comes across as a good egg, clearly skilled and capable, yet humble and down to earth. The stories of his drinking and smoking are endearing and a little shocking to our modern sensibilities!
It is a perfectly pitched work, with complex engineering and science explained clearly without being dumbed down. Well written, and genuinely touching when talking about people and tragedy.
The book takes in little of his early life, but most of his career - starting as an air force pilot, ending the narrative shortly after Apollo 11 - with some time for a thoughtful conclusion.
The sense of danger pervades, yet the spirit of (an American stamped) mission for all mankind shines through, inspiring.
August 31, 2020
Michael Collins - vienas iš trijų keliauninkų į Mėnulį. Tai jo biografinė knyga, kurioje labai smulkiai aprašoma įspūdingoji kelionė, ką reikėjo nuveikti, kad į ją papultum, kokius testus reikėjo atlikti, kaip pasiruošti ir kaip sekėsi gyventi po to. Labai įdomi, gal kiek sudėtinga knyga, jei nesidomi kosminių laivų technika, bet priverčianti bent trumpam prisiliesti prie kelionės į Mėnulį, suprasti, ką jaučia astronautai.
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