Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who piloted the ship from which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left to make their historic first steps on the moon in 1969, died Wednesday of cancer, his family said. He was 90.
Though he travelled some 2,38,000 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 in space after the Apollo 11 mission.
Though Collins didn’t get to walk on the Moon like Armstrong and Aldrin, none of them would have got there and back without him. When asked, he had described Earth as looking ‘Serene and fragile.’
Collins was part of the three-man Apollo 11 crew that effectively ended the space race between the United States and Russia and fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to reach the moon by the end of the 1960s.
Exploration, Not a Choice: Collins
“It’s human nature to stretch, to go, to see, to understand,” Collins had said on the 10th anniversary of the moon landing in 1979. “Exploration is not a choice really — it’s an imperative, and it’s simply a matter of timing as to when the option is exercised.”
A statement from acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk on the passing of Michael Collins read: “Today the nation lost a true pioneer and lifelong advocate for exploration in astronaut Michael Collins. As pilot of the Apollo 11 command module – some called him ‘the loneliest man in history’ – while his colleagues walked on the Moon for the first time, he helped our nation achieve a defining milestone. He also distinguished himself in the Gemini Program and as an Air Force pilot.
Mr. Jurczyk continued that, “Michael remained a tireless promoter of space. ‘Exploration is not a choice, really, it’s an imperative,’ he said. Intensely thoughtful about his experience in orbit, he added, ‘What would be worth recording is what kind of civilization we Earthlings created and whether or not we ventured out into other parts of the galaxy.’”
The NASA Administrator added that his own signature accomplishments, his writings about his experiences, and his leadership of the National Air and Space Museum helped gain wide exposure for the work of all the men and women who have helped our nation push itself to greatness in aviation and space.
Inspired Test Pilots, Engineers
“There is no doubt Collins inspired a new generation of scientists, engineers, test pilots, and astronauts. NASA mourns the loss of this accomplished pilot and astronaut, a friend of all who seek to push the envelope of human potential. Whether his work was behind the scenes or on full view, his legacy will always be as one of the leaders who took America’s first steps into the cosmos. And his spirit will go with us as we venture toward farther horizons,” he said.
In a statement the Collins family said that they regret to share that our beloved father and grandfather passed away today, after a valiant battle with cancer.
“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 honour his wish for us to celebrate, not mourn, that life.”