Space

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins dies aged 90

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Co...
Michael Collins (1930 - 2021)
Michael Collins (1930 - 2021)
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Michael Collins in the Apollo Command Module simulator
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Michael Collins in the Apollo Command Module simulator
Michael Collins aboard Gemini 10
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Michael Collins aboard Gemini 10
Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin
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Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin
Michael Collins (1930 - 2021)
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Michael Collins (1930 - 2021)
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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.

Michael Collins aboard Gemini 10
Michael Collins aboard Gemini 10

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.

Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin
Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin

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.

Source: NASA

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2 comments
Jamurray
In 1979, I had the special privilege to attend the tenth anniversary ceremonies for Apollo 11, held at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, as a guest of Senator John Glenn.

There on the steps of the NASM all three of the astronauts and several NASA administrators each gave speeches. Fellow moonwalker John Young with Robert Crippen presented them with space shuttle desk models. Right in the middle of the presentations, a young boy wandered forward from the audience. Perhaps 4 or 5 years old, he carried a book up to a then seated Armstrong. Instead of being ushered away, Neil unceremoniously lifted the boy onto his lap and wrote in the book.

Of all the many words delivered on that hot and sunny July morning, it was what Michael Collins said that I so vividly remember over 50 years later. He recounted his activities serving as Director of the fledgling museum and the careful and meticulous preservation of the collection. Of the various fragile artifacts he said, "Fix the cracks while they are small...". An then applied the metaphor to living life.

Mike Collins message still rings true today. I consider it a life lesson of enduring value that we can all carry with us, as we each maneuver the many challenges we face day to day.

Jim Murray
Aermaco
@Janmurray a very eloquent and fitting tribute. Lucky you to be at the Apollo11 10th. Myself only a mere fan I did videotape A-11 with its subtitle "live from the moon" on a Sony [GE name plate] 1/2" reel to reel that is no longer tuning;-(

But my closer connection to that history was my Uncle in law who just died and worked on the LEM's development. He was chosen to be one of the little known "Live Wires" a group of Grumman LEM builders whose names are on LEM landers still on the moon. The "Live Wires" were an organization of key players to coordinate all the LEM team's development as it became more and more complex. His name was William Burgemiester and he saved all the drawings which he color coded and dated to be referenced for coordination referring backward from days to months and thus they became a singular history of the whole LEM development. He returned them to Grumman after it was discontinued but he says they through them away.;-(

The LEM to me was the greatest Architectural achievement in human history; to create a building to ride in a rocket, land on the moon, support research living quarters and then take off again to return to earth. It is hard to believe we haven't been back in over 50 years. Anyway Bill Burgemiester was a very accomplished historian in world history and often said Michael Collins was the astronaut who impressed him the most of all.