US astronaut Michael Collins, a member of Apollo 11, the first manned mission to the moon, died of cancer on Wednesday at the age of 90, his family said in a statement.
A command and service module pilot, he had remained in orbit while fellow missionaries Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon.
“My dear Mike, wherever you have gone or will be, you will always have the flame to carry us with skill to new heavens and the future. We will miss you. May you rest in peace”, greeted his comrade Buzz Aldrin, last surviving member of Apollo 11.
Despite his great age, Michael Collins remained in recent years the most active of the veterans of Apollo, and the most poetic when he recalled his memories of the Moon.
“When we left and saw it, oh, what an imposing sphere,” he recounted in 2019 in Washington.
“The Sun was behind her, so she was illuminated with a golden circle that made the craters really weird, due to the contrast between the whitest of whites, and the blackest of blacks.”
“As splendid and impressive as it was, it was nothing compared to what we saw through the other window,” he continued. “Over there was that thumb-sized pea at the end of your arm, a beautiful little thing nestled in the black velvet of the rest of the universe.”
– “The loneliest man in history” –
“I said to the control center: + Houston, I see the world in my window +”.
“Today the nation has lost a true pioneer and a lifelong defender of exploration in the person of Michael Collins,” Nasa reacted in a statement.
“Some called him + the loneliest man in history + – while his colleagues walked on the moon for the first time, he was helping our nation to reach a crucial milestone”, also underlines the American space agency.
“Michael Collins has lived a life of service to our country,” Joe Biden responded in a statement, noting that he had “both written and helped tell the story of our nation’s remarkable achievements in space.” .
“He may not have received the same glory, but he was an equal partner, reminding our nation of the importance of collaboration in the service of great designs,” added the US president.
Born October 31, 1930 in Rome to a diplomatic father, Michael Collins trained at the West Point military academy and became a fighter pilot and then a test pilot for the US Air Force.
In 1963, he joined NASA, two years after President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to see an American walk on the moon before the end of the decade.
He carried out several spacewalks, notably at the controls of Gemini 10 in 1966, and was chosen to participate in the first manned mission to the Moon.
The only member of the Apollo 11 crew not to have walked on the Earth satellite, Collins says he did not retain any bitterness.
– “No TV on board” –
He even later confides “to have been very happy to be alone” for 32 hours, stressing not without humor “to have been one of the rare Americans not to have followed the moon landing because there was no television. on board”.
On July 21, 1969, the day after Armstrong and Aldrin’s moon landing, AFP wrote from the Houston Space Center:
“Of the three Apollo 11+ astronauts, Collins is the most talkative, and he has the most colorful language. On Sunday after the separation of the two spaceships, he replied to the controllers, worried: + Listen to my cuties , everything is going very smoothly + “.
The dispatch of the time also reports that Michael Collins had designated his fellow missionaries “my little eagles”, and that left alone in the capsule, he had launched impatiently in Houston: “I would like to know when we eat” .
Like Aldrin and Armstrong, Collins quickly left NASA after the triumphant return to Earth and pursued a rich public career.
He was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs by President Richard Nixon, then directed the construction of the Washington Air Museum, assuming the presidency (1971-1978).
He then became a consultant and wrote books related to space adventure.
In its statement, the astronaut’s family wishes to remember “his quick wit, his quiet sense of duty, and his wisdom gaze gained by looking to Earth from space, and observing the calm waters. from his fishing boat “.