Michael Collins, USAF Maj Gen and Apollo 11 crewman, dead age 90

| April 28, 2021

ninja wanted to make us all aware of the passing of a legendary figure in the Apollo moon landing program. Michael Collins, among many things in life, was the man left in lunar orbit alone as the command module (CM) pilot while mission commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module (LM) pilot Buzz Aldrin flew down to the moon to their historic walk. Collins’ job was to keep the home fires burning while they were off gallivanting around the lunar regolith. He died today from cancer.

Collins would be the second man to fly alone over the moon (John Young did the same during the first lunar orbit test flight of the LM during the Apollo 10 mission). The CM pilot’s job was the less glamorous side of the lunar missions. They kept the home fires burning while the other crewmen got to go walk on the moon. It was also a job that came with the very real possibility of returning to Earth alone.

The LM had surprisingly few redundant systems. If something went wrong, for example with the single point of failure rocket used to return from the lunar surface, the CM pilot would be forced to leave his comrades behind. It would be a very lonely three day ride back to Earth that thankfully never had to be taken.

Collins’ other milestones include being the fourth person (and third American) to conduct a spacewalk. He was the first man to do a second spacewalk. After leaving NASA in 1970 he would be a State Department appointee in the Nixon Administration for a year before becoming director of the National Air and Space Museum and eventually undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institute.

Collins’ military service began with an appointment to West Point (from which his father and brother had graduated) in 1948. He decided to take his commission into the US Air Force (the Air Force, being a new branch, had yet to create its own service academy). He did this because of a fascination with airplanes and to avoid claims of nepotism.

Students of WWII history will recognize Collins’ relations, and probably never knew the nexus between them and Apollo 11. Collins’ father was James Lawton Collins Sr, who retired from the Army in 1946 as a major general after 39 years of service from being an aide-de-camp to Pershing in the Philippine-American War, to France in World War I, and through World War II. Collins’ brother was James Lawton Collins Jr. At the time Michael Collins was at West Point his brother was already a colonel in the Army and a veteran of World War II. James Jr would ultimately retire in 1970 as a brigadier general after serving in Vietnam. Michael Collins’ uncle (on his father’s side) was J. Lawton Collins, at the time a 4-star general and Chief of Staff of the United States Army. J. Lawton Collins had become commander of VII Corps, which played a major role in the D-Day invasion and the following Normandy campaign, at just the age of 47.

Knowing his family history, it’s no surprise that Michael Collins would aim for the moon. After commissioning into the Air Force he earned his wings as an F-86 fighter pilot. A natural aviator, he accumulated 1,500 flight hours in just 6 years and qualified for test pilot school. From there he applied for astronaut training. He was denied in 1962, but was picked up for the program in 1964. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Apollo 11 astronauts were national heroes. As such, any future spaceflight was precluded. NASA had done the same for John Glenn. Having your national icons die in a fiery explosion or suffocate in the vacuum of space is bad for optics. The led Collins to leave NASA and the active duty Air Force. He’d move to the Air Force Reserves from which he’d retire in 1982 as a major general.

Like Neil Armstrong, Collins led a quiet, dignified retirement. He gave speaking engagements and was more vocal than the notoriously reserved Armstrong.

Among Collins’ military awards are the Distinguished Flying Cross (for work on the Gemini Program), Legion of Merit, and Air Force Distinguished Service Medal. From NASA he received the Exceptional Service Medal and Distinguished Service Medal (the second highest NASA award).

Among Collins’ civil awards and honors are both the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction (the country’s highest civil award, from the President) and the Congressional Gold Medal (the country’s highest civil award, from Congress). The Apollo 11 astronauts shared the Collier Trophy, Harmon Trophy, and Hubbard Medal (all three prestigious awards) as well as the Smithsonian’s Langley Gold Medal.

Category: Air Force, NASA, ninja, We Remember

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Rest once again amongst the heavens.


Godspeed and Rest Well, Good Sir. You did your Nation and Family proud. A person that chases and achieves his dreams is way yonder more of a hero than a person that chases, catches, or dribbles a ball. Thank You for your Service.

John Seabee

Seems more than fitting for this hero.

High Flight
by John Gillespie Magee

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew –
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.


https://youtu.be/qLLDQhA1Z7c even the Byrds sang about that mission.

Green Thumb

Rest well, Pilot.


I sure hope this one is a true story that I’m seeing all over the ‘net.

Michael Collins had joked to Neil Armstrong that “if you had any balls, you’d say ‘Oh my God, what is that thing?’, scream, and then cut your mic.”


That sounds like Collins’ sense of humor. He was quite the wit.

Rest in peace, sir.


Another steely eyes missleman gone… another hero from my childhood

RIP Michael Collins




1 Lord, guard and guide the men who fly
Through the great spaces of the sky;
Be with them traversing the air
In dark’ning storms or sunshine fair.

Thou who dost keep with tender might
The balanced birds in all their flight,
Thou of the tempered winds, be near,
That, having thee, they know no fear.

Control their minds with instinct fit
What time, adventuring, they quit
The firm security of land;
Grant steadfast eye and skillful hand.

Aloft in solitudes of space,
Uphold them with Thy saving grace.
O God, protect the men who fly
Through lonely ways beneath the sky.

MI Ranger

A true hero that was willing to accept the back seat when the mission required but fully capable of stepping up when the time came! RIP MG(Ret) Michael Collins


An amazing man who lead an amazing life.
If you want a really good look into what actually made these men heroes, listen to (or watch) Bill Whittle’s podcast “Apollo 11: What We Saw”. It is a phenomenal look at what went into the Apollo program. The post above puts it well – that the CM pilot would have to leave his compatriots on the moon if there was a problem and make the journey back to earth on his own. With the complexity of it all, it is a wonder that only the Apollo 1 crew was lost. I would say that it was probably their lose that prevent mishaps later in the program.

Rest well, sir. You deserve it.

The Other Whitey

Michael Collins and his fellow Astronauts of that decade were Titans among men, American heroes in a time of American greatness. I pray that we see such times again, and that we can again be led by such men.

Commissioner Wretched

Gen. Collins wrote a book about his experiences as an astronaut called “Carrying the Fire.” I strongly recommend that book to anyone who wants the inside story of the Gemini and Apollo programs.

Rest in peace, General Collins.