He was the “forgotten astronaut”, the “forgotten astronaut” of the trio with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, remained in orbit while his companions became the first men to walk on the Moon. Michael Collins died Wednesday of cancer at the age of 90.
The American astronaut Michael Collins, member of Apollo 11, the first manned mission to the Moon, died Wednesday of cancer at the age of 90, announced his family in a statement. Pilot of the command and service module, he had remained in orbit while his companions of mission Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the Moon. Despite his old age, Michael Collins remained in recent years the most active of the Apollo veterans, and the most poetic when he evoked his memories of the Moon.
“Houston, I see the world through my window”
“When we left and saw it, oh, what a towering sphere,” he had told in 2019 in Washington. “The Sun was behind it, so it was illuminated with a golden circle that made the craters really strange, because of the contrast between the whitest of the whites, and the blackest of the blacks.”
“As splendid and impressive as it was, it was nothing compared to what we saw through the other window,” he continued. “Out there was this little thumb-sized pea at the end of your arm, a beautiful little thing nestled in the black velvet of the rest of the universe.” “I said to the control center, ‘Houston, I can see the world in my window.'”
The man who did not walk on the moon
Born on October 31, 1930 in Rome to a diplomat father, Michael Collins trained at the military academy of West Point and became a fighter pilot then a test pilot for the US Air Force. In 1963, he joined NASA, two years after President John F. Kennedy challenged him to see an American walk on the Moon before the end of the decade.
He made several spacewalks, including 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 satellite of the Earth, Collins says he did not keep any bitterness. He even confided afterwards “to have been very happy to remain all alone” during 32 hours, underlining not without humour “to have been one of the rare Americans not to have followed the lunar landing because there was no TV on board”.
Nasa salutes a pioneer
“Today the nation has lost a true pioneer and advocate for the life of exploration in the person of Michael Collins,” reacted Nasa in a statement. “Some called him ‘the loneliest man in history’ – while his colleagues walked on the Moon for the first time, he helped our nation reach a crucial milestone,” the US space agency also stressed.
“My dear Mike, wherever you have been or will be, you will always have the flame to carry us deftly into new skies and the future. We will miss you. May you rest in peace,” greeted his comrade Buzz Aldrin, the last surviving member of Apollo 11.
A rich public career
Like Aldrin and Armstrong, Collins quickly left NASA after the triumphant return to Earth and had a rich public career. He was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs by President Richard Nixon, and then directed the construction of the Washington Air Museum, assuming the presidency (1971-1978).
He then became a consultant and wrote books related to the space adventure. In its statement, the astronaut’s family wishes to remember “his keen mind, his quiet sense of duty, and his eyes of wisdom gained from looking down on Earth from space, and watching the calm waters from his fishing boat.”