American astronaut Michael Collins, who was left piloting the Apollo 11 command module on July 20, 1969 while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin traveled to the lunar surface to become the first people to walk on the moon, died Wednesday at the age of 90, said his family.
A statement released by his family says that Collins died of cancer.
Collins, often referred to as the “forgotten” third astronaut on the historic mission, stayed alone in the command module for more than 21 hours until his two fellow astronauts returned to the lunar module. Every time the spaceship orbited the dark side of the moon, it lost contact with mission control in Houston, Texas.
“Not since Adam knew someone who is as lonely as Mike Collins,” says the mission protocol, referring to the biblical figure.
Collins wrote an account of his experience in his 1974 autobiography, Carrying the Fire, but he largely avoided the public eye.
“I know I would be a liar or a fool if I said I had 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 am “said Collins in comments published by NASA in 2009.
President Joe Biden said his prayers were with the Collins family.
“From his point of view, high above the earth, he reminded us of the fragility of our own planet and urged us to look after it like the treasure it is,” Biden said in a statement. “Godspeed, Mike.”
Acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk called Collins “a true pioneer” on Wednesday.
“NASA mourns this accomplished pilot and astronaut, a friend of all who try to push the limits of human potential. His spirit will go with us as we venture into wider horizons,” Jurczyk said in a statement.
Aldrin wrote on Twitter paying tribute to Collins.
Wherever you have been or will be, you will always have the fire to skilfully carry us to new heights and into the future. We will miss you. May you rest in peace. # Apollo11 pic.twitter.com/q4sJjFdvf8
– Dr. Buzz Aldrin (@TheRealBuzz) April 28, 2021
“Calm sense of purpose”
Collins was born in Rome, Italy on October 31, 1930 – the same year as Armstrong and Aldrin, who died in 2012. He was the son of a major general in the US Army and, like his father, attended the US Military Academy in West Point, New York, which he graduated in 1952.
Like many first-generation American astronauts, Collins began as an Air Force test pilot.
In 1963 it was selected by NASA for its astronaut program, which was in its infancy but grew rapidly at the height of the Cold War when the United States tried to push the Soviet Union forward and fulfill President John F. Kennedy’s promise to land a Man on the moon at the end of the decade.
Collins’ first voyage into space was in July 1966 as a pilot on Gemini X, part of the missions preparing NASA’s Apollo program. The Gemini X mission successfully docked with a separate target vehicle.
His second and last space flight was the historic Apollo 11.
The ascent stage of the Apollo 11 lunar module with astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin on board is photographed from the command module that Collins piloted in lunar orbit in July 1969 [File: Michael Collins/NASA Handout via Reuters]Collins avoided much of the media fanfare that greeted the astronauts on their return to Earth, and later often criticized the cult of fame.
After a brief reign, Collins became director of the National Air and Space Museum and resigned in 1978. He was also the author of a number of space-related books.
His strongest memory of Apollo 11, he said, was looking back at Earth, which he described as “fragile.”
“I really believe that if the world’s political leaders could see their planet 100,000 miles away, their way of seeing things could change radically. That all-important limit would be invisible, that loud argument would be silenced, ”he said.
His family’s testimony said they knew “how happy Mike was living the life he did”.
“Please join us in reminding yourself lovingly and joyfully of his sharp wit, calm sense of intent, and wise perspective gained by looking back at the earth from the perspective of space and looking out over calm waters won from the deck of his fishing boat. “