Michael Collins, the American astronaut who took part in the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969, died Wednesday (April 28) at the age of 90, his family said. That year, Neil Armstrong (Neil Armstrong) and Buzz Aldrin (Buzz Aldrin) set foot on the surface of the moon, writing the history of the first human, while Collins stayed in the command module.
A statement released by Collins’ family said he died of cancer.
Collins is often described as the “forgotten” third astronaut on that historic mission to the moon. He was left alone for more than 21 hours before his two colleagues returned to the command module. Each time the spacecraft circled the dark side of the moon, he would lose contact with mission control in Houston.
Borrowing an analogy from the biblical character Adam, the mission log wrote, “Not since Adam has any human being been known to be as lonely as Mike Collins.”
Collins described his experience in his 1974 autobiography, Carrying the Fire, but he largely avoided the limelight.
In comments published by NASA in 2009, Collins said, “I know that I would be a liar or a fool if I said that mine was the best of the three positions on Apollo 11, but I can truthfully and honestly say that I am completely satisfied with my position .”
Collins was born in Rome on Oct. 31, 1930, the same year as Armstrong and Aldrin. His father was a major general in the U.S. Army. Collins also followed in his father’s footsteps, attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and graduating in 1952.
Like many first-generation American astronauts, Collins was an Air Force test pilot by trade.
In 1963, he was selected to join NASA’s astronaut program. At that time, the manned space flight mission was still in its infancy, however, in the height of the Cold War years, to compete with the Soviet Union, the United States quickly accelerated the pace of astronautics in an effort to fulfill President John F. Kennedy’s (ohn F. Kennedy) vow to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
Collins’ first trip to space took place in July 1966, when he was the pilot of Gemini 10 (Gemini X). This was in preparation for NASA’s Apollo moon program.
His second and final space flight was the historic Apollo 11 moon landing.
The astronauts were greeted with pomp and circumstance upon their return to Earth, but Collins tried to avoid the media hoopla, and he was later often critical of the cult of celebrity.
After a short stint in government, Collins became director of the National Air and Space Museum and stepped down in 1978. He is also the author of several space-related books.
He said his most striking memory of Apollo 11 was how “fragile” the Earth seemed when he looked back down at it.
“I really believe that if the world’s political leaders could see their planet from a distance of 100,000 miles, their perceptions might be fundamentally altered. There would be no trace of that overwhelmingly important border, and that noise stinging argument would disappear.”
His family said in a statement that they know “Mike feels so fortunate for the life he has lived.”