American astronaut Michael Collins, who as the pilot of the Apollo 11 command module remained on July 20, 1969, while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin traveled to the lunar surface to become the first humans walk on the moon, died Wednesday at age 90, his family said.
A statement released by his family said Collins died of cancer.
Often described as the historic third mission’s “forgotten” astronaut, Collins was left alone in the command module for over 21 hours until his two fellow astronauts returned to the lunar module. He lost contact with mission control in Houston, Texas, every time the spacecraft circled the dark side of the moon.
“Since Adam, no human has experienced loneliness like Mike Collins,” the mission journal said, referring to the Biblical figure.
Collins wrote an account of his experiences in his 1974 autobiography, Carrying the Fire, but largely avoided publicity.
“I know I would be a liar or a jerk if I said 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,” Collins said. in comments published by NASA in 2009.
President Joe Biden said his prayers are with the Collins family.
“From his perspective, above Earth, he reminded us of the fragility of our own planet and called on us to care for it as the treasure that it is,” Biden said in a statement. “Good luck, Mike.”
NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk on Wednesday hailed Collins as “a true trailblazer.”
“NASA mourns the loss of this accomplished pilot and astronaut, a friend of all who seek to push the limits of human potential … His spirit will accompany us as we venture to more distant horizons,” Jurczyk said in a statement. .
Writing on Twitter, Aldrin paid tribute to Collins.
– Dr Buzz Aldrin (@TheRealBuzz) April 28, 2021
“ Calm sense of purpose ”
Collins was born in Rome, Italy on October 31, 1930 – the same year that Armstrong, who died in 2012, and Aldrin. He was the son of a major general in the United States Army and, like his father, attended the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, where he graduated in 1952.
Like many first-generation American astronauts, Collins started out as an Air Force test pilot.
In 1963, he was chosen by NASA for its astronaut program, still in its infancy, but which was developing rapidly during the height of the Cold War as the United States sought to overtake the Soviet Union and fill President John F. Kennedy’s Landing Promise. a man on the moon at the end of the decade.
Collins’ first trip to space took place in July 1966 as a pilot on Gemini X, part of the missions that prepared NASA’s Apollo program. The Gemini X mission successfully docked with a separate target vehicle.
Its second and last space flight was the historic Apollo 11.
Collins avoided much of the media fanfare that greeted the astronauts upon their return to Earth, and went on to criticize the cult of fame often.
After a brief stint in government, Collins became director of the National Air and Space Museum, resigning in 1978. He was also the author of a number of books on space.
His strongest memory of Apollo 11, he said, was looking at Earth, which he said looked “fragile.”
“I truly believe that if the world’s political leaders could see their planet from a distance of 161,000 km, their outlook could be fundamentally changed. This very important border would be invisible, this loud argument silenced, ”he said.
Her family’s statement said she knew “how lucky Mike was to live the life he did”.
“Please join us in lovingly and cheerfully remembering her quick wit, calm sense of purpose, and wise outlook, earned both by looking at Earth from space and gazing at calm waters from deck. from his fishing boat. “