• February 23, 2024

‘Forgotten Astronaut’ Michael Collins Dies : NPR

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins (left) at a 2014 event with Apollo 16 astronaut Charles Duke (right) hiding the caption Steven Senne / AP

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Steven Senne / AP

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins (left) at a 2014 event with Apollo 16 astronaut Charles Duke (right)

Steven Senne / AP

An astronaut who flew on one of the most famous space missions of all time has died. Michael CollinsThe 90-year-old was part of the three-man crew Apollo 11Unlike Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, he never went on the moon. Collins stayed behind, piloting the command module as it circled above. For this reason, Collins is often referred to as the “forgotten astronaut”.

In 1969, President Nixon (right) greets the Apollo 11 astronauts in quarantine after their mission to the moon. The Apollo 11 crew from left are Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin. AP hide caption

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In 1969, President Nixon (right) greets the Apollo 11 astronauts in quarantine after their mission to the moon. The Apollo 11 crew, from left, are Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.

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When Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon for the first time and uttered the famous phrase: “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the eagle has landed.“” Collins was in orbit 60 miles above him, just as busy and just as excited, telling the Houston team that he heard communications with his comrades and it was “fantastic.”

Aldrin and Armstrong were on the lunar surface for almost 22 hours. The world was spellbound. See them rabbit hop, snap photos, and collect moon samples during their only short moon walk. All the while, Collins was circling the moon. Look at the barren moonscape and look back at the earth. “What I remember most is the view of planet Earth from a great distance,” he said later. “Tiny. Very shiny. Blue and white. Bright. Beautiful. Serene and fragile.”

Forgotten astronaut

He was able to talk to controllers half the time while he was orbiting, but by the time he was on the far side of the moon he was completely cut off. Because of this part of the mission, some have called him the loneliest man in human history. As he recalled in a 2016 NPR interview, he didn’t see it that way. He said, “The fact that I … had no communication and wasn’t scared was a joy because I got Mission Control to shut up for a while. Every now and then.”

“It’s a shame when people are asked, ‘Can you name the Apollo 11 crew?’ Mike Collins is usually the name that doesn’t come to mind, “said Francis French of the San Diego Air and Space Museum and author of many books on the space program. “Because he was the cornerstone of the mission in many ways. He was the one who really knew how to fly the starship solo (the only person to fly a starship solo in the entire mission) and the only one who did all three could get her home. “

Astronaut Michael Collins studies the flight plan during simulation training at the Kennedy Space Center prior to the planned Apollo 11 mission. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images Hide caption

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Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Astronaut Michael Collins studies the flight plan during simulation training at the Kennedy Space Center prior to the planned Apollo 11 mission.

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“And if something went wrong with the lunar lander that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were in,” remarked French, “Michael Collins had the engine that could try to meet with anywhere around the moon and save her.”

Life before space

Mike Collins was born in Rome, Italy, in 1930, where his father was a major general in the US Army. Service and duty have been a part of Collins all his life. He graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point and later joined the Air Force and became a test pilot.

NASA selected him as an astronaut in 1963 and his first flight was on board Twins 10. On this mission, he was the fourth person to do a spacewalk.

As a boy, Collins dreamed of going into space. “I always joked that NASA sent me to the wrong place, the moon,” he said, “because I think Mars is a more interesting place. It’s a place I used to read about as a kid . “

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins receives an aviation award from Vice President Al Gore in 1999 at a ceremony at the National Air and Space Museum. Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong (left) and Buzz Aldrin also received the award. The event marked the 30th anniversary of the first moon landing. Doug Mills / AP hide caption

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Doug Mills / AP

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins receives an aviation award from Vice President Al Gore in 1999 at a ceremony at the National Air and Space Museum. Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong (left) and Buzz Aldrin also received the award. The event marked the 30th anniversary of the first moon landing.

Doug Mills / AP

Life after space

Mars was also a place he wrote about as an adult. Collins has authored several books, and one, Carrying the Fire, is considered the best of all astronaut autobiographies.

Apollo 11 was his last trip into space and he never missed the chance to step on the moon. “As an astronaut, I always thought I had the best job in the world and I still think that,” he said, “but for me, when it was over, it was over.”

Even so, he said he would look up and see the moon and think, “Oh my god! I was there!” I was up there, you see? Despite all these years, this somehow surprises me. “

He called his time at NASA “a chapter in my life – the brightest chapter in my life – but not the only one.”

Collins achieved the rank of major general. He left NASA in 1970 to join the State Department. He later became director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, overseeing construction and opening in 1976.

In his later years, Collins did not slow down. He competed in triathlons, loved fishing and even started painting.

Jack

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