Astronaut Michael Collins, one of three who traveled on the historic Apollo 11 flight, the first moon landing mission in 1969, died Wednesday of cancer at the age of 90.
A statement from his family indicated that Collins was battling cancer.
The message was posted on Twitter detailing: “He spent his last days in peace, with his family at his side. Mike has always faced life’s challenges with grace and humility, and he faced this last challenge in the same way.”
Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) left Cape Canaveral (Florida) on July 16, 1969 at 09:32 local time, heading to the Moon as part of NASA’s Apollo Program.
From there, the Saturn V rocket took off, carrying the spacecraft with the three astronauts who arrived on the moon on July 20.
“Dear Mike, wherever you are or wherever you are, you will always have bonfires to subtly take us to new heights,” said the 91-year-old Aldrin, today the only survivor of that historic mission.
“Today the nation has lost a true pioneer and lifelong advocate of exploration,” NASA said in a statement.
The US space agency noted that as a pilot in the Apollo 11 command unit, some described him as “the most lonely man in history” as his colleagues walked on the surface of the Moon for the first time.
Unlike Armstrong and Aldrin, Collins has never walked on the moon. Collins stayed behind and commanded the command unit while it hovered overhead. For this reason, Collins was often called the “Forgotten Astronaut”.
NASA confirmed today that Collins “helped our nation achieve a critical milestone,” noting that he also distinguished himself in the Gemini program and as a pilot in the Air Force.
“Michael has been a tireless space promoter,” NASA said in the statement.
During the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the trip to the moon in 2019, Collins stated that without hesitation he would “propose to go straight to Mars,” the red planet, which was already in the plans of the US space agency.
NASA remembered his words today: “Exploration is not an option, in fact, it is inevitable.”
“What is worth recording is the kind of civilization that we, the Earthlings, have created and whether or not we have ventured into other parts of the galaxy,” added, who was very thinking about his experience in orbit.
“We will miss him a lot,” his family said in the note. “However, we also know how Mike felt lucky to have lived the life that he did.”
Collins, who was the star of celebrations two years ago at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, suggested using the Kennedy name on the first manned flight to Mars.