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Michael Collins, the third astronaut on board the Apollo 11 spaceship that took man to the moon, has died aged 90.
Often referred to as the ‘forgotten’ astronaut, Collins remained in orbit piloting the Apollo 11 command module Columbia while crewmates Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps on the lunar surface on July 20 1969.
In a statement posted on Twitter, his family confirmed that Collins passed away today, April 28, ‘after a valiant battle with cancer.’
Please join us in fondly remembering his sharp wit, his quiet sense of purpose, and his wise perspective, which he gained both from looking back at Earth from the vantage of space and gazing across calm waters from the deck of his fishing boat.
Born in Rome on October 31 1921, Collins grew up in a military family, and moved around frequently as a child. He followed in his father and older brother’s footsteps by attending the prestigious US Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1952.
Having developed a love of flying as a teenager, Collins chose to join the US Air Force, where he trained as a fighter pilot before becoming a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base in California – the same base from which legendary pilot Chuck Yeagar became the first person to break the sound barrier in 1947.
While serving in the Air Force Collins met his wife, Patricia Finnegan. The two were married from 1957 until her death in 2014, and had three children.
Inspired to become an astronaut by John Glen’s orbit of the Earth in 1962, Collins applied to join NASA that same year, although he was initially unsuccessful, he was accepted into the third class in October 1962.
Following his training, Collins became part of Project Gemini, a NASA programme with the objective of taking man to the moon. In January 1969, he was announced alongside Armstrong and Aldrin as a member of the Apollo 11 mission. His death leaves Aldrin as the only surviving member of that crew.
On the decision to have Collins left piloting the command module, space historian Francis French said he was ‘the one who really knew how to fly the spacecraft solo…and the only one who could get all three of them home.’ In recognition of his achievements, Collins was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2011.
Left orbiting the moon alone for 11 hours, Collins said of his time in space: ‘The thing I remember most is the view of planet Earth from a great distance. Tiny. Very shiny. Blue and white. Bright. Beautiful. Serene and fragile.’
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.
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