Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who orbited the moon alone while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their historic first steps on the lunar surface, died Wednesday. He was 90. Collins died of cancer in Naples, Florida.
Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who orbited the moon alone while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their historic first steps on the lunar surface, died Wednesday. He was 90.
Collins died of cancer in Naples, Florida. “Mike always faced life’s challenges with grace and humility, and he faced this, his final challenge, in the same way,” his family said in a statement.
Collins was part of the Apollo 11 three-man crew that effectively ended the space race between the United States and Russia in 1969, fulfilling President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to reach the moon by the late 1960s.
Although he traveled about 238,000 miles to the moon and came within 69 miles, Collins never set foot on the lunar surface like his crewmates Aldrin and Armstrong, who died in 2012. None of the men flew into space after the Apollo 11 mission.
“It’s human nature to stretch, go, see, understand,” Collins said on the 10th anniversary of the 1979 moon landing until when the option is exercised. ”
Collins later served as the director of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington.
“Michael Collins wrote and helped tell the story of our country’s remarkable achievements in space,” President Joe Biden said in a statement, noting that Collins “demanded that everyone just call him Mike.”
Collins spent the eight-day Apollo 11 mission piloting the command module. While Armstrong and Aldrin descended to the lunar surface in the lunar module Eagle, Collins remained alone in the command module, Columbia.
“That’s okay. I don’t mind,” he replied.
Collins was alone for nearly 28 hours before Armstrong and Aldrin completed their tasks on the lunar surface and took off in the lunar module. Collins was responsible for reconnecting the two spacecraft before the men could return to Earth. Had something gone wrong and Aldrin and Armstrong were trapped on the moon’s surface – a real fear – Collins would have returned to Earth alone.
Although he was often asked if he regretted not having landed on the moon, that was never an option for Collins, at least not on Apollo 11. Collins’ specialty was as a command module pilot, a job he likened to the base camp operator. . on a mountaineering expedition. As a result, this meant that he was not considered to participate in the July 20, 1969 landing.
“I know I would be a liar or a fool to say I have the best of the three Apollo 11 seats, but I can say with truth and equanimity that I am completely satisfied with the one I have,” wrote in his 1974 autobiography, “Carrying the Fire.” “This venture was set up for three men, and I consider my third as necessary as any of the other two.”
Aldrin, the surviving Apollo 11 astronaut, tweeted on Wednesday a photo of the three crew members smiling: “Dear Mike, wherever you are or will be, you will always have the fire to deftly take us to new heights and into the future . ”
Collins was born in Rome on Halloween 1930. His parents were Virginia Collins and Major General James L. Collins of the United States Army. After graduating from the United States Military Academy in 1952, a year behind Aldrin, Collins joined the Air Force, where he became a fighter pilot and test pilot.
John Glenn’s 1962 flight, making him the first American to orbit the Earth, convinced Collins to join NASA. He was accepted as part of the third selected group of astronauts on his second attempt, in 1963. Collins’s first mission was the 1966 Gemini 10, one of the two-man missions in preparation for flights to the moon.
Together with John Young, Collins practiced the maneuvers required for a moon landing and conducted a spacewalk during the three-day mission. During the spacewalk, he famously lost a camera, often cited as one of the items of “space junk” in orbit.
On January 9, 1969, NASA announced that Collins, Armstrong, and Aldrin would be part of the crew of Apollo 11, the United States’ first attempt to land on the moon. Of his fellow Apollo 11 astronauts, Collins said they were, “Smart as hell, both skilled and experienced, each in their own way.” Still, Collins called the group “lovable strangers” because the trio never developed such an intense bond as other crews.
‘We were all business. We were all hard at work. And we felt the weight of the world on us, ”said Collins in 2019.
Of the three, Collins was the recognized joker. Aldrin called him the “easy man who brought frivolity into things.” For example, in summing up Kennedy’s famous challenge to go to the moon, Collins later said, “It was beautiful in its simplicity. Do what? Moon. When? End of the decade.”
The Apollo 11 crew trained for just six months before being launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, 1969. The mission insignia – an eagle landing on the moon with an olive branch in its talons – was largely Collins’s creation.
Collins said one of the things that struck him the most was the way Earth looked from space – peaceful and serene but also delicate.
“When I look back on Apollo 11, I feel more and more drawn to my memory, not to the moon, but to the Earth. Tiny, little Earth with its tiny black velvet backdrop, ”said Collins while celebrating the mission’s 50th anniversary in 2019.
Instead, he said the moon seemed almost hostile. In fact, it was considered so hostile that Collins, Armstrong, and Aldrin all spent several days in a quarantine trailer upon their return. They received visitors, including President Richard Nixon, who stared through a window.
When the group was finally considered safe, they went on a world tour, visiting 25 countries in just over five weeks.
Collins often commented that he was surprised that everywhere they went people didn’t say, “Well, you Americans finally did it.” Instead, they said, “Well, it finally worked,” which means “we” humans.
Collins said early on that Apollo 11 would be his last mission, although NASA officials wanted him to keep flying. Collins soon left NASA and joined the State Department as an assistant secretary for public affairs. Although he enjoyed the people, he later wrote that “flying long hours in Washington with a large mahogany desk” did not suit him.
After about a year, he left and joined the Smithsonian Institution. There he led a team responsible for the planning and opening of the National Air and Space Museum. The Apollo 11 capsule is in the museum’s collection, along with many of Collins’s personal items from that mission, including his toothbrush, razor blade, and a tube of Old Spice shaving cream.
“Whether his work was behind the scenes or in plain sight, his legacy will always be as one of the leaders who took America’s first steps into the cosmos,” acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk said in a statement.
Collins leaves behind two daughters and grandchildren. He died on the 64th anniversary of his marriage to Patricia Finnegan Collins, who died in 2014.
Along with his autobiography, Collins wrote a book about his experiences for younger readers, “Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut’s Story.” In a preface to the 1994 book, Collins pushed for more spending on space exploration and an astronaut mission to Mars.
“I am too old to fly to Mars, and I regret it. But I still think I was very lucky, ”he wrote. “I was born in the days of biplanes and Buck Rogers, learned to fly in the early jets, and reached my peak when moon rockets passed by. That’s hard to beat. “