“Loneliest man in history” Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins dies at 90

Apr 28, 2021, 12:00 PM | Updated: 1:29 pm
Apollo 11, Commander Neil Armstrong (Left), Command Module Pilot Michael Collins(Center) and Lunar ...
Apollo 11, Commander Neil Armstrong (Left), Command Module Pilot Michael Collins(Center) and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin (Right) splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after achieving the first lunar landing. July 24, 1969 NASA

The “loneliest man in history,” Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot and Astronaut Michael Collins, died Wednesday at age 90 after a fight with cancer.

In a statement released by his family, they say his final days were peaceful.

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 miss him terribly. Yet we all know how lucky Mike felt to have lived the life he did. 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 heart from the vantage of space and gazing across the calm waters from the deck of his fishing boat.

The Third Man: Michael Collins

Collins was born in Rome, Italy, on Oct. 31, 1930. He was one of the third group of astronauts named in October 1963 and piloted the Gemini 10 mission in 1966.

He was later selected as the Command Module pilot for Apollo 11’s spaceship Columbia and steered the crew on their trip 238,000 miles away from the surface of the Earth to our galactic companion, the moon.

On July 20, 1969, after 100 hours and 12 minutes into the flight, fellow astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin undocked from the Columbia inside the Eagle Lunar Lander and headed to the surface of the moon.

As Armstrong and Aldrin descended the final miles to become the first humans in history to step foot on any surface other than Earth, they left Collins alone in his orbit.

While Collins passed into the “dark side of the moon,” his communication with his fellow space travelers, and with NASA back on Earth, was blocked.

“I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life,” he wrote in his memoir, “Carrying the Fire,” in 1974.


While Collins flew over the far side of the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin touched down safely on the surface. 650 million people worldwide watched Armstrong’s image taking the final steps off the lander as he said “… one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The loneliest man in history

Each time Collins would orbit the moon, he would once again lose contact with everyone and everything and be the farthest from Earth any human ever has been.

“If a count were taken, the score would be 3 billion plus 2 over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God only knows what on this side,” Collins added in his memoir. “I like the feeling. Outside my window I can see stars — and that is all. Where I know the moon to be, there is simply a black void.”

Collins wrote that during his time alone inside the Columbia, he still had plenty to do. He said he was deeply worried about the moment when Armstrong and Aldrin would blast off from the moon and make their way back to his waiting spacecraft.

‘In event of moon disaster’ – The speech President Richard Nixon never gave

“My secret terror for the last six months has been leaving them on the moon and returning to Earth alone,” he wrote. Some 50 years later, he noted he was wearing a packet around his neck that had 18 different contingency plans for rescuing his fellow astronauts. Luckily, they didn’t need any of them.

So close and yet so far

During his trips into space, Collins would rack up 11 days, 2 hours and 4 minutes in space, but he would never get the chance to stand on the moon.

“Far from feeling lonely or abandoned, I feel very much a part of what’s taking place on the lunar surface,” he wrote.

“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. This venture has been structured for three men, and I consider my third to be as necessary as either of the other two.”

With his unique perspective of the Earth as he sped around the moon at 3,700 mph while in orbit, he said he wished he could have shared that experience with the world.

“I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of, let’s say 100,000 miles, their outlook would be fundamentally changed. The all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument suddenly silenced,” he wrote on Twitter in 2019.


We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

SLCPD cruiser...
Chandler Holt

SLCPD officer witnesses wrong-way drunk driver crash into embankment

At around 6:30 a.m. Sunday morning, an SLCPD officer witnessed a 2009 black Ford F-150 traveling at a high rate of speed in the wrong lane. 
15 hours ago
This photo purports to show the suspected Chinese balloon flying over Mills River, North Carolina, ...
Heather Chen and Wayne Chang, CNN

China says it ‘reserves the right’ to deal with ‘similar situations’ after US shoot down suspected spy balloon

China says it "reserves the right" to deal with "similar situations" following the United States' decision to shoot down its high-altitude balloon.
15 hours ago
In the golden age of space exploration we live in, cosmic revelations seem to occur more frequently...
Ashley Strickland, CNN

Cosmic seaplanes and self-growing bricks could help us explore other worlds

In the golden age of space exploration we live in, cosmic revelations seem to occur more frequently than ever before.
2 days ago
The Chinese national flag is seen at the entrance to the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing...
By Zachary Cohen, CNN

A look at China’s history of spying in the US

The suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that violated American airspace this week has fueled a diplomatic crisis with the postponement of Secretary of State Antony Blinken's planned trip to Beijing.
2 days ago
Around 3:15 p.m. Saturday, February 4, a 34-year-old female sustained critical injuries after being...
Waverly Golden

AirMed responds to tubing accident in Peter Sinks, Logan

Around 3:15 p.m. Saturday, February 4, a 34-year-old female sustained critical injuries after being struck by a snowmobile.
2 days ago
A balloon flies in the sky over Billings, Montana, U.S. February 1, 2023, in this picture obtained ...
Zachary Cohen, CNN

US military has shot down the Chinese spy balloon off US East Coast, US official says

The US military has shot down the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon over the Atlantic Ocean off the Eastern Seaboard, a US official said Saturday.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
“Loneliest man in history” Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins dies at 90