After being selected for NASA’s third group of 14 astronauts in 1963, Collins first flew into space as part of the Gemini program and would have flown to the Moon as part of the Apollo 8 mission in 1968 if it hadn’t been for a back operation which precluded him from going.
Perhaps fortuitously, this delay meant that he would end up being assigned to pilot the command module for Apollo 11 – the most historic space mission in human history.
Collins, alongside his crewmates Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, soared into the heavens atop a giant Saturn V rocket on July 16th, 1969 and headed towards the Moon.
Unlike his companions however, he stayed behind in the command module during the actual Moon landing, which saw him being dubbed “the most solitary human in existence” as he orbited alone some 240,000 miles from home – the first person to ever experience such a disconnect from the rest of the human race.
He later claimed that he had never felt lonely and stressed that his greatest fear was Aldrin and Armstrong becoming stranded on the Moon, forcing him to return to Earth alone.
Fortunately however his companions made it back safe and after returning to Earth, all three men were hailed as celebrities, with the success of Apollo 11 cementing their names in the history books.
After retiring from the space program, Collins took on a number of roles including Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and director of the National Air and Space Museum.
He died of cancer on April 18th, 2021 at the age of 90.