Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins dies aged 90
Apollo 11 astronaut Major General Michael Collins (USAF (Retired)) has died at the age of 90 after a battle with cancer. In 1969, Collins was the Command Module Pilot for the first crewed lunar landing, and remained in orbit aboard the Command Service Module (CSM) Columbia while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the surface.
One of the third group of NASA astronauts chosen in the 1960s, Michael Collins was born on October 31, 1930 in Rome, Italy, where his father was the US military attaché. As an Army brat, he spent his childhood in many locations and joined the US Air Force in 1952, becoming a fighter pilot and later a test pilot.
Collins decided to become an astronaut after the successful flight of John Glenn on February 20, 1962 aboard the Mercury Atlas 6 mission, and, after training, he was assigned as backup pilot for the Gemini 7 mission. In 1966, he was assigned as pilot to the Gemini 10 mission, with John Young as Command Pilot.
At 5:20 EDT on July 18, 1966, the Gemini 10 spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop a Titan II rocket. Collins and Young spent almost three days in orbit, practicing rendezvous and docking with an uncrewed Agena Target vehicle (ATV), developing the skills and techniques that would be needed for Apollo.
During the flight, Collins made two spacewalks. On the first, he stood up through the open hatch and photographed the stars, and on the second he recovered experiments outside the craft and tested the nitrogen-propelled Hand-Held Maneuvering Unit (HHMU), which was a sort of rocket pistol astronauts used to maneuver about.
Collins was supposed to fly on Apollo 8, but surgery for a cervical disc herniation required him to be scrubbed, and he was later assigned as Command Module Pilot for Apollo 11, which meant extensive retraining. Aside from his flight duties, he also helped to design the Apollo 11 mission patch.
During Apollo11, Collins remained aboard CSM Columbia while Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the Lunar Module (LM) Eagle. Left alone, as his craft passed behind the Moon, he became the most isolated person in history, farther from any other human being ever.
While Armstrong and Aldrin set foot on the Moon, Collins carried out routine maintenance and tried to spot the lunar module from orbit. Though he was relaxed and slept, so he would be well-rested for the rendezvous with the returning Ascent Module, he was also worried about what would happen if his colleagues died on the Moon and he had to return to Earth as the sole survivor.
Thankfully his fears were never realized and after Apollo 11 returned to Earth, the three astronauts were given parades in New York and Chicago, a White House state dinner, and toured 22 countries in 38 days. They were all also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2011. Collins left NASA in 1970 for a brief appointment as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, before becoming Director of the National Air and Space Museum until 1978. In 1980, he became vice president of LTV Aerospace, and he wrote several books.
"We regret to share that our beloved father and grandfather passed away today, after a valiant battle with cancer," the Collins family said in a statement. "He spent his final days peacefully, with his family by his side. 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. 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. Please join us in fondly and joyfully remembering his sharp wit, his quiet sense of purpose, and his wise perspective, gained both from looking back at Earth from the vantage of space and gazing across calm waters from the deck of his fishing boat."
With Neil Armstrong passing away in 2012, Collins' death leaves Buzz Aldrin as the only surviving member of the Apollo 11 crew.