Michael Collins, the astronaut who participated in the first space mission that placed man on the Moon with Apollo 11 , died this Wednesday of cancer at the age of 90. In a statement issued by his family, they explain that Collins “spent his last days in peace, with his family by his side. Mike always faced the challenges of life with grace and humility, and he faced this, his last challenge, in the same way.
Family Statement on Passing of Astronaut Michael Collins pic.twitter.com/6OAw7CzFaz
— Michael Collins (@AstroMCollins) April 28, 2021
Collins was part of the trio of astronauts on Apollo 11, the first moon landing mission in July 1969. The mission was broadcast on televisions around the world and became one of the most important events of the 20th century. However, unlike Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, he never set foot on the Moon. Collins stayed behind and piloted the command module as it flew overhead. For this reason, Collins is often called the “forgotten astronaut.” When Neil Armstrong first stepped on the Moon and uttered the famous phrase: “ Houston, this is Tranquility Base. The Eagle has landed“Collins was in orbit, 60 miles above, just as busy and just as excited, telling the team back in Houston that he was listening to communications with his teammates, and that it was” fantastic. “
As for the trajectory of Michael Collins, the third member of the crew, it was somewhat more conventional than that of his two companions. He left NASA in 1970. He briefly accepted a public relations position at the Secretary of State, a surprising choice, since he was neither a journalist nor had diplomatic experience. And during his months there he had to deal with the conflicts in Vietnam and Cambodia, the national protests, and the very serious incidents at Kent State University.
Soon after, he began to take over the management of the still non-existent Air and Space Museum in Washington. Opened in 1976, meeting deadlines and budget, today it is one of the most visited museums in the world. From there Collins went on to serve on the board of the Smithsonian Institution and then on to the aerospace industry, first as a manager and finally establishing his own consulting firm.
Collins was one of the first astronauts to write several books about his experiences. And also one of the few whose family life outweighed all the drawbacks associated with his exhaustive dedication to the space program. He was widowed by his first wife in 2014. He and Aldrin will undoubtedly occupy the places of honor at the ceremonies that NASA organizes to commemorate the half-century since the arrival on the Moon. Only Neil will be missed, the astronaut who never wanted to appear.