Michael Collins, an astronaut who flew on one of the most famous space missions of all time, Apollo 11, died Wednesday at age 90 from cancer, the family said in a statement. He was part of the first lunar landing mission in 1969, but unlike Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, he never walked on the moon.
Collins stayed orbiting the command module around the Moon while his crewmates explored the surface. Because of that he was known as “the forgotten astronaut”. However, he was in charge of monitoring the systems and being prepared for any contingency.
After the success of the Apollo 11 mission, Michael Collins, together with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, made an international tour that culminated in Los Angeles, United States. There, along with his crewmates, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Michael Collins retired from NASA in 1970 and took a public relations position with the Secretary of State. He was then in charge of the start-up of the Air and Space Museum in Washington, which opened in 1976. In 1978, he was appointed Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
Later, in 1980, he served as vice president of the LTV Aerospace and Defense Company and finally launched as an independent consultant. Throughout his life, Michael Collins wrote numerous books portraying his experiences in the space program and an autobiography entitled: Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys.
Michael Collins was born in Rome on October 31, 1930. His father, Army Maj. Gen. James Lawton Collins, had served as aide-de-camp to Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. He was born in Rome in 1955.
Before settling in Washington after World War II, he spent time in New York City and Puerto Rico, following his father’s military assignments. In 1948 he graduated from St. Albans School where his classmates called him “Scarecrow” because of his slender figure.
He received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, from which his father and older brother had graduated in 1907 and 1939 respectively. Attracted to test piloting, in 1952 he joined the Air Force.
When he learned that NASA was seeking candidates for its space program, Michael Collins did not hesitate to apply. However, he was not accepted on the first try, but on the second. He worked with engineers on the development of spacesuits.
Before traveling on the historic Apollo 11 mission, he orbited the Earth as the pilot of Gemini 10. On a three-day mission, he and John Young set a new orbital altitude record. While he did not walk on the lunar surface, he became the first astronaut in history to travel twice outside his spacecraft.