Former NASA astronaut Michael Collins, pilot of Apollo 11’s command module Columbia, has died in Florida, US, at the age of 90.
The Collins family released a statement on Twitter confirming that cancer was the cause, and that Collins spent his last days peacefully. “Please join us in fondly and joyfully remembering his sharp wit, his quiet sense of purpose and his wise perspective…” they wrote.
The last surviving Apollo 11 crew member, Buzz Aldrin, tweeted: “Dear Mike, Wherever you have been or will be, you will always have the Fire to Carry us deftly to new heights and to the future. We will miss you. May you Rest In Peace.”
Born in October 1930, Collins was the son of a US army major general. After graduating from US Military Academy West Point in 1952 he entered the US air force, “to avoid suggestions of nepotism in future assignments” according to the New York Times. He trained as a jet fighter pilot and later became a test pilot.
He was selected in NASA’s third group of astronauts in 1963 and flew in space twice: the first time an earth-orbital mission with John Young on Gemini 10, and then to the Moon with Aldrin and Neil Armstrong in 1969.
After leaving NASA in 1970 Collins spent several years as director of the National Air and Space Museum, in Washington DC, and was later a private consultant. His fame from the late 1960s onwards – while never quite as overwhelming as Armstrong’s – defined his long life, and he handled it with patience, erudition and, especially, humour.
Upon the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, in 2019, The Atlantic published a revealing article about Collins.
“I can’t say I wake up every morning thinking, Oh, Apollo 11, blah blah,” Collins told writer Marina Koren. “I may, in normal times, go a month or two without thinking about it. But when I do, it comes back with a great deal of clarity, more than I would have guessed.”
Collins, wrote Koren, was mostly famous for being alone in Columbia during Armstrong and Aldrin’s time on the Moon, and she concluded her article by pointing out that Collins wished people would ask him something else about his trip to the moon – something that he’d heard was one of the most common questions for modern-day astronauts.
“I’ve never had it before – I’m not sure why – but how do you go potty in space?” Collins says. “I’ve been waiting for it, because the answer is: carefully.”