HOUSTON – Astronaut Michael Collins, one-third of the Apollo 11 moon-landing crew, died Wednesday. He was 90.
His death was announced by family members in a written statement posted on social media.
“He spent his final days peacefully, with his family by his side,” the family wrote. “Mike always faced the challenges of life with grace and humility, and faced this, his final challenge, in the same way. We will miss him terribly.”
As Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took mankind’s first steps on the moon, Collins, the command module pilot, orbited 65 miles above them. He was an essential part of the mission.
“He had to be able to operate [the command module] all by himself. So he had to know the whole spacecraft. And that was part of my job--I specialize in guidance and navigations,” said Apollo Flight Simulator Instructor Frank Hughes. “[Collins] was so far educated so far beyond the other guys...Working with him you always knew you had the best he could do. No chance he wasn’t working hard every time.”
Before he was a space traveler, Collins was a world traveler.
He was born in Rome, Italy, where his father -- a career Army officer -- was stationed. The Army sent their family all over the globe.
Collins followed in his father’s footsteps to West Point and then into the armed services. However, instead of the Army, his love of flying led him to the Air Force as a fighter and test pilot, skills which would help what would be his next endeavor.
Collins was a member of the third group of NASA astronauts, selected in October 1963. His first flight was as a pilot of Gemini 10, a three-day mission launched July 18, 1966. He was on the backup crew for Apollo 8 and became the Command Module Pilot of Apollo 11.
Armstrong and Aldrin may have received the glory for that mission to the moon, but Collins stood out at NASA.
“Mike Collins was probably the brightest of the three ... well-read, had a hell of an education, everything like that,” said Frank Hughes, a simulator instructor during the Apollo era.
Life after the moon landing brought decades of accolades for the Apollo 11 crew.
Collins wrote a few books and made appearances. Interviews were rare for the famous space pioneer.
Collins was sometimes called the “forgotten astronaut” of that mission to the moon, but he was at peace with his role in history.
“I wished I could have walked on the moon, undeniably, I felt that way at the time,” Collins said during an NBC News interview in June 2019. “But I can say with the utmost honesty, I was thrilled to have the place that I had.”
This photograph of the Lunar Module at Tranquility Base was taken by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission, from the rim of Little West Crater on the lunar surface. Armstrong's shadow and the shadow of the camera are visible in the foreground. This is the furthest distance from the lunar module traveled by either astronaut while on the moon.