Michael Collins, one of the three legendary crew members of the first human mission to the surface of the Moon in July 1969, has died at 90 years old, according to a family statement reported on NASA's official website.
An Air Force and NASA pilot, promoter of space exploration, and more — Collins played a crucial role in turning a cold-war-era space race into a rare moment of global unity, when everyone could set aside their national differences and marvel at the wonders of human courage and ingenuity.
NASA Astronaut Michael Collins passes after a lifetime of service to the human race
"Today the nation lost a true pioneer and lifelong advocate for exploration in astronaut Michael Collins," read an official statement from NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk on Collins' passing in the NASA blog post. "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," added Jurczyk. The Apollo 11 mission was arguably the greatest symbolic victory in world history — solidifying the United States' NASA as the de facto winner of the space race. But the live broadcast on televisions and radios worldwide brought a great sense of unity to the human race, which had finally done the impossible, and set foot on the moon. But even after shaping the history of human civilization, Collins continued to promote the significance of space exploration.
"Michael remained a tireless promoter of space. 'Exploration is not a choice, really, it's an imperative,' he said. 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.'"
Collins' many accomplishments, writings, and experiences — in addition to his leadership role at the National Air and Space Museum — multiplied the exposure for the work of every woman and man who "helped our nation push itself to greatness in aviation and space," said Jurczyk. "There is no doubt he inspired a new generation of scientists, engineers, test pilots, and astronauts."
"NASA mourns the loss of this accomplished pilot and astronaut, a friend of all who seek to push the envelope of human potential," continued the NASA statement from Jurczyk. "Whether his work was behind the scenes or on full view, his legacy will always be as one of the leaders who took America's first steps into the cosmos."
Michael Collins' leadership inspires the next generation of explorers
"And his spirit will go with us as we venture toward farther horizons," added Jurczyk. A touching statement from Collins' family follows:
"We regret to share that our beloved father and grandfather passed away today, after a valiant battle with cancer. He spent his final days peacefully, with his family by his side. Mike always faced the challenges of life with grace and humility, and faced this, his final challenge, in the same way. We will honor his wish for us to celebrate, not mourn, that life. 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."
Few humans can claim to have done as much for modern civilization as Collins. But as collaborative efforts of NASA, SpaceX, Blue Origin, the European Space Agency, and many others move to carry us back to the moon and beyond, it's exactly Collins' example that many courageous astronauts will look to, as the human race explores farther into the final frontier than ever before.
This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.