WASHINGTON, April 28, 2021—The “third man” who remained on the Apollo 11 spaceship while his two other crewmates became the first to walk on the Moon in 1969 passed away today.
Former test pilot and NASA astronaut Michael Collins, who flew aboard Gemini 10 and served as command module pilot for the historic Apollo 11 moon mission, passed away April 28 at age 90.
Collins remained in lunar orbit while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to walk on the Moon.
“Today the nation lost a true pioneer and lifelong advocate for exploration in astronaut Michael Collins,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “As pilot of the Apollo 11 command module – some called him ‘the loneliest man in history’ – while his colleagues walked on the Moon for the first time, he helped our nation achieve a defining milestone. He also distinguished himself in the Gemini Program and as an Air Force pilot.”
Collins was born in Rome, Italy, in 1930, and moved with his family to Washington, D.C., where he graduated from high school. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, in 1952.
Prior to joining NASA, Collins served as a fighter pilot and an experimental test pilot at the Air Force Flight Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. From 1959 to 1963, he logged more than 4,200 flying hours.
Selected by NASA as an astronaut in 1963, he served as the pilot for Gemini X and as the command module pilot for the Apollo 11 mission.
Collins completed two spaceflights, logging 266 hours in space.
He retired from the U.S. Air Force as a major general and left NASA in 1970.
Collins not only served as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, but also became the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air & Space Museum, serving from 1971 to 1978 and overseeing the museum building’s construction and opening.
“Michael remained a tireless promoter of space. ‘Exploration is not a choice, really, it’s an imperative,’ said Jurczyk. “Intensely thoughtful about his experience in orbit, he added, ‘What would be worth recording is what kind of civilization we Earthlings created and whether or not we ventured out into other parts of the galaxy.’”