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Collins played vital role in Apollo 11 moon landing

His name might not have been as familiar as his counterparts but Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who died Wednesday at the age of 90, was just as important to the first mission to land on the moon.

While the world watched astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon back in July 1969, Collins orbited the moon. He never had the chance to stroll on the surface, but that was all right by him.

According to a story by The Associated Press, Collins’ specialty was as a command module pilot, a job he compared to being the base-camp operator on a mountain climbing expedition. As a result, it meant he wasn’t considered to take part in the July 20, 1969, landing.

“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,” he wrote in his 1974 autobiography, “Carrying the Fire.” “This venture has been structured for three men, and I consider my third to be as necessary as either of the other two.”

Collins died of cancer in Naples, Florida, and his family released this statement: “Mike always faced the challenges of life with grace and humility, and faced this, his final challenge, in the same way.”

While younger people might not be familiar with the history-making astronaut, for Baby Boomers, Collins’ death is another loss of someone who was a familiar part of the common history of their generation.

Many watched the television coverage of not just the walk on the moon, but the start and finish of the vital mission Collins piloted.

The mission was the fulfillment of President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to reach the moon by the conclusion of the 1960s. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins did not fly in space again after Apollo 11.

Collins, who went on to become the director of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, said this in 1979, the 10th anniversary of the moon landing: “It’s human nature to stretch, to go, to see, to understand. Exploration is not a choice really — it’s an imperative, and it’s simply a matter of timing as to when the option is exercised.”

We salute Collins, who, along with the other astronauts trained for the missions into outer space and onto the moon, had the Right Stuff, indeed.

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