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50 Years Ago: Mike Collins’ Neck Surgery Announced

On July 22, 1968, NASA announced that astronaut Michael Collins would undergo surgery for a bone spur in his neck.  Collins had been experiencing increasing weakness and tingling in his legs and sought medical advice.  X-rays and other tests revealed the cause.  On July 23, neurosurgeon Col. Paul Myers operated on Collins at the USAF Wilford Hall Hospital in San Antonio, Texas.  The surgery was successful with no complications, but because of the expected three to six months of recuperation, NASA managers decided to remove Collins from his assigned crew.

In November 1967, NASA named Collins as the Command Module Pilot (CMP) for the third crewed Apollo mission, planned for early 1969, along with Commander Frank Borman and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) William Anders.  As their backups, NASA named Commander Neil Armstrong, CMP James Lovell and LMP Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.  During their mission, the crew planned to simulate in Earth orbit all the steps and sequences of an actual lunar landing.  The CSM and LM would fly separately for several hours and the LM descent and ascent stages would be fired as if landing on and launching from the Moon, boosting the spacecraft to an altitude of 4,000 miles.  As Collins continued his recuperation, NASA announced on August 8 that Lovell from the backup crew would replace him, joining Borman and Anders on the prime crew.

NASA history
Left – The original prime crew for the third crewed Apollo mission: (left to right) Williams Anders, Michael Collins and Frank Borman. Right – The crew shortly after Lovell’s addition: (left to right) James Lovell, William Anders, and Frank Borman.
Credits: NASA

Read about Mike Collins’ recollections in his oral history with the JSC History Office.

For more on the Apollo Program, please visit the JSC History Office page.