Michael Collins dead at 90: Apollo 11 astronaut who travelled to Moon with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin loses cancer fight

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who orbited the Moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the surface, has died.

Michael Collins flew on Apollo 11 where he served as the command module pilot.

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The 90-year-old, who was part of the historic first moon landing mission in 1969, died today after “a valiant battle with cancer”, his family said.

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Often known as the “Forgotten Astronaut”, because he didn’t land on the Moon, his role instead in the famous journey was to navigate the module as it flew round the Moon and ensured it could safely rendezvous with the capsule again at the end of the landing.

From left, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E "Buzz" Aldrin.

His passing was confirmed in a statement issued by the Collins family: “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 also know how lucky Mike felt to have lived the life he did.

"We will honour 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.”

After Armstrong died aged 82 in 2012, Aldrin, 91, is now the only surviving member of the mission.

Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk paid tribute to Collins, saying he helped inspire a whole new generation of scientists, engineers, test pilots, and astronauts.

“Today the nation lost a true pioneer and lifelong advocate for exploration in astronaut Michael Collins. 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.

“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 civilisation we Earthlings created and whether or not we ventured out into other parts of the galaxy.’

“His own signature accomplishments, his writings about his experiences, and his leadership of the National Air and Space Museum helped gain wide exposure for the work of all the men and women who have helped our nation push itself to greatness in aviation and space.

"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.

"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. And his spirit will go with us as we venture toward farther horizons.”

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