‘Forgotten’ moon landing astronaut Michael Collins dies aged 90

The Apollo 11 astronaut who stayed in orbit while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon has died age 90.

Michael Collins was called the “forgotten astronaut” because he piloted the orbiting command module while his crew-mates made the historic first moon landing in 1969.

A family statement said he died on Wednesday “after a valiant battle with cancer” and had “spent his final days peacefully, with his family by his side”.

Left to right: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and 'Buzz' Aldrin. Pic: AP
Image:Left to right: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and ‘Buzz’ Aldrin. Pic: AP

“Mike always faced the challenges of life with grace and humility, and faced this, his final challenge, in the same way,” said the statement.

“We will miss him terribly. Yet we also know how lucky Mike felt to have lived the life he did. We will honour his wish for us to celebrate, not mourn, that life.”

The three astronauts smile during quarantine on 24 July 1969. Pic: AP
Image:The three astronauts smile during quarantine back on Earth on 24 July 1969. Pic: AP

They paid tribute to his “sharp wit, his quiet sense of purpose, and his wise perspective”.

Collins travelled about 238,000 miles to the moon and came within 69 miles – but never set foot on it.

Instead, he spent almost a day in orbit while Aldrin and Armstrong were on the surface.

He said he wasn’t lonely and felt like an important part of the mission as his speciality was as a command module pilot.

Eleven things you didn't know about the moon landings

Eleven things you didn’t know about the moon landings

He spent 48 minutes in each orbit on the “far side of the moon” and in that time lost communication with mission control. Collins said he felt “awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation”.

During orbit he mostly performed chores, as well as keeping an eye out for the Eagle lunar module in preparation to meet it again.

After more than 21 hours on the moon’s surface, Armstrong and Aldrin lifted off and rejoined Collins on the Columbia command module.

“I know that I would be a liar or a fool if I said that I have the best of the three Apollo 11 seats, but I can say with truth and equanimity that I am perfectly satisfied with the one I have,” he said in his autobiography.

“This venture has been structured for three men, and I consider my third to be as necessary as either of the other two.”

Michael Collins (L) speaks to President Trump in July 2019. Pic: AP
Image:Collins and Aldrin (far right) with President Trump in July 2019. Pic: AP

In July 2019, Collins and Aldrin met the then US president Donald Trump at the White House to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic mission.

The enormous achievement of Apollo 11 was repeated only six more times before NASA scrapped the programme, and humans haven’t stepped foot on the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972.

Neil Armstrong died in 2012, while Buzz Aldrin is now 91.

NASA had planned to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024. However, that date was recently described as “unlikely” by an internal report.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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