He was considered the third man, “the forgotten astronaut” of the Apollo 11 mission. And for good reason: his task was to stay in the command module, in lunar orbit, while his famous teammates Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin , became the first humans to walk on the moon. Michael Collins died of cancer on April 28 at the age of 90.
If he did not have the chance to set foot on lunar soil on July 21, 1969, his role was nonetheless crucial. As the pilot of the Apollo command and service module, his task was to remain in orbit around the moon, to allow his teammates to land and then return on board safely. A perilous operation, on which the whole mission was based. ” No human has known such loneliness like Mike Collins », We can read in the logbook of the mission.
After a valiant battle with the disease, Collins lived his final days peacefully, his relatives said. ” From his point of view, above the Earth, he reminded us of the fragility of our own planet and called on us to take care of it as the treasure that it is. President Joe Biden said in a statement.
“The loneliest man in history”
Neil Armstrong was 82 when he died in 2012. Buzz Aldrin, 91, is still alive and resides in New Jersey. On Twitter, he paid tribute to his former team-mate: “ Dear Mike, wherever you are or will be, you will always have the flame to skillfully transport us to new heights and into the future “.
NASA also paid tribute to this man, who allowed the United States to take a decisive step. ” The nation has lost a true pioneer and longtime advocate of space exploration », Regrets Steve Jurczyk, acting administrator of the American agency. ” Exploration is not a choice, really, it is a must », Said the astronaut. Michael Collins also distinguished himself in the Gemini program – a manned space flight program, which predated the Apollo missions, between 1963 and 1966 – and as an Air Force pilot.
When Armstrong first walked on the moon on July 21, 1969, the whole world was focused on him. And meanwhile, Collins was in orbit a hundred miles above his colleague, focused on his command module piloting maneuvers. If he had to be content to admire the Moon from afar, he also had the opportunity to contemplate our planet, feeling the effect overview full force. ” What I remember the most is seeing the planet Earth from afar. Very small. Very brilliant. Blue and white. Beautiful. Serene and fragile », He declared on his return from the mission.
Because he was cut off from all communication every time the command module crossed the moon, some called him “the loneliest man in history.” Still, he revealed in an interview in 2016 that he didn’t feel so lonely. The fact of being cut off from the world for a little while, and especially from the Earth Control Center, gave him more joy than fear, according to him. A peaceful and silent parenthesis, which he obviously appreciated.
An example for all astronauts
Michael Collins was born on October 31, 1930, in Rome, where his father, General James Collins, was a military attaché at the American Embassy. Before becoming an astronaut, he graduated from the West Point Military Academy. He then follows the classic route of most NASA astronauts at the time. First a fighter pilot in the army, he became a test pilot in 1960 at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He was finally accepted into NASA’s Astronaut Group 3 in 1963.
He makes his first space flight on the Gemini 10 mission, in which he and his teammate John Young also perform two spacewalks. His second and final space flight will be as the Apollo 11 mission command module pilot, a role that didn’t really stand out, but was a huge responsibility. ” For the general public, the feat is to walk [sur la Lune], but it is perhaps an even greater feat to be on your own to manage a critical situation for the survival of your companions », Comments the French astronaut Jean-François Clervoy.
Without him, Armstrong and Aldrin simply wouldn’t have walked the moon. Considering the responsibility that weighed on her shoulders, Collins’ lack of fame may seem unfair. But for Jean-François Clervoy, “ an astronaut does not fly to be known, he flies for the human adventure, to do his job well “. He adds that Michael Collins, a man known for his calm, sympathy and discretion, remains an example to all astronauts.
Collins retired from NASA in 1970. He was then appointed to the post of Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs at the United States Department of State. A year later, he became director of National Air and Space Museum, a post he held until 1978, then became Undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution, dedicated to scientific research. In 1985, he created his consulting firm, Michael Collins Associates. He passed away on April 28 in Naples, Florida.