On April 20, 1969, a defining moment in human history was made. Apollo 11, a manned mission sent by the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), succeeded in landing the Lunar Module Eagle on the Moon. Hours later, the first two men on the moon stepped onto the lunar surface: NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. While the televised landing was praised worldwide, a third astronaut sat in the Command Module Columbia, which carried Eagle and the astronauts from Earth. While he is not celebrated like Armstrong and Aldrin, Michael Collins’ role as the rocket pilot was vital. And now, he has passed away.
CBS News tells us that Michael Collins, the sometimes-nicknamed “Forgotten Astronaut” of the Apollo 11 moon mission, has died this past Wednesday, April 28, at the age of 90. A statement by his family revealed that Collins succumbed to cancer at his home in Naples, Florida, and described how his graceful and humble facing of his condition was the same attitude with which he faced the challenges of his life. “We will miss him terribly,” continues the family statement. “Yet we also know how lucky Mike felt to have lived the life he did. We will honor his wish for us to celebrate, not mourn, that life.”
Much like most of the early NASA astronaut corps, Collins was recruited from his test piloting duties in the US Air Force. As Command Module pilot of Apollo 11, he maneuvered the rocket that carried the crew and the Lunar Module to lunar orbit. Collins stayed aboard CM Columbia while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed, losing contact with mission control at Houston every time Columbia circled the far side of the moon. After his astronaut days, Collins became Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum director, and more recently maintained a social media presence, noted there for his witty humor.
The death of Michael Collins leaves Buzz Aldrin as the last survivor of the Apollo 11 trio, with Neil Armstrong – first man on the moon – having died in 2012. Aldrin would write a touching tribute to his fellow Apollo astronaut on Twitter, praising him for carrying them to new heights and the future. Other condolences arrived from other astronauts, NASA, the National Air and Space Museum and President Joseph Biden.
Image courtesy of NASA