Michael Collins
Michael Collins

WASHINGTON: Amer­ican astronaut Michael Collins, who stayed behind in the command module of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969, while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin traveled to the lunar surface to become the first humans to walk on the moon, died on Wednesday at age 90, his family said.

A statement released by his family said Collins died of cancer.

Often described as the “forgotten” third astronaut on the historic mission, Collins remained alone for more than 21 hours until his two colleagues returned in the lunar module. He lost contact with mission control in Houston each time the spacecraft circled the dark side of the moon.

“Not since Adam has any human known such solitude as Mike Collins,” the mission log said, referring to the biblical figure.

Collins wrote an account of his experiences in his 1974 autobiography, “Carrying the Fire,” but largely shunned publicity.

“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,” Collins said in comments released by Nasa in 2009.

Collins was born in Rome on Oct 31, 1930 — the same year as both Armstrong and Aldrin. He was the son of a US Army major general and, like his father, attended the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, graduating in 1952.

Like many of the first generation of American astronauts, Collins started out as an Air Force test pilot.

In 1963, he was chosen by Nasa for its astronaut programme, still in its early days but ramping up quickly at the height of the Cold War as the United States sought to push ahead of the Soviet Union and fulfill President John F. Kennedy’s pledge of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

Collins’ first voyage into space came in July 1966 as pilot on Gemini X, part of the missions that prepared Nasa’s Apollo programme. The Gemini X mission carried out a successful docking with a separate target vehicle.

His second, and final, spaceflight was the historic Apollo 11.

He avoided much of the media fanfare that greeted the astronauts on their return to Earth, and was later often critical of the cult of celebrity.

After a short stint in government, Collins became director of the National Air and Space Museum, stepping down in 1978. He was also the author of a number of space-related books.

His strongest memory from Apollo 11, he said, was looking back at the Earth, which he said seemed “fragile.” “I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of 100,000 miles, their outlook could be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument silenced,” he said.

His family’s statement said they know “how lucky Mike felt to live the life he did.”

“Please join us in fondly and joyfully remembering his sharp wit, his quiet sense of purpose, and his wise perspective, gained both from looking back at Earth from the vantage of space and gazing across calm waters from the deck of his fishing boat.”

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2021

Opinion

Trouble in Camelot
Updated 06 May 2021

Trouble in Camelot

The electorate knows better than to swallow the government’s rhetoric.
Time to wake up
Updated 05 May 2021

Time to wake up

The criticism reflects our failure to counter rising religious intolerance and bigotry, and also exposes a diplomatic debacle.

Editorial

Proceed with caution
Updated 06 May 2021

Proceed with caution

The slightest loosening of SOP protocols could send us hurling in the direction where India finds itself today.
06 May 2021

IPP dues

THE ECC decision to pay the first tranche of outstanding dues of one set of IPPs, and further delay the payments of...
06 May 2021

Violence against doctors

HEALTHCARE workers and doctors’ associations in two major hospitals of KP are adamant that the KP Healthcare...
05 May 2021

Path of growth

FINANCE MINISTER Shaukat Tarin finally specified the future direction that the country’s economic policy will take...
05 May 2021

Human rights 2020

THE human rights situation in Pakistan, almost predictably bleak every year, was deeply impacted in 2020 by an...
Unreasonable behaviour
Updated 05 May 2021

Unreasonable behaviour

Usman Buzdar should reprimand Dr Awan for her coarse behaviour and make sure she tenders a public apology.