Astronauts and the world mourn death of Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins

People around the world are mourning the death of Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who piloted the command module for the first-ever moon landing in 1969. 

Collins, 90, had been battling cancer for some time, and the news of his death became public today (April 28). "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," his family shared in a statement. "We will miss him terribly. Yet we also know how lucky Mike felt to have lived the life he did." 

Collins was dubbed "the forgotten astronaut," because he didn't walk on the moon like his two Apollo 11 crewmates, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did. But Collins' impact on spaceflight and the world is undoubted. That impact can be seen clearly in how people from all over, including other astronauts, are reacting to the news of his passing.

Related: Michael Collins, Apollo 11 command module pilot

Michael Collins training in the Apollo command module simulator in preparation for the Apollo 11 mission in June 1969. (Image credit: NASA)

"Dear Mike, Wherever you have been or will be, you will always have the Fire to Carry us deftly to new heights and to the future. We will miss you. May you Rest In Peace. #Apollo11," Aldrin tweeted after the news was made public. ("Fire to Carry" is a reference to Collins' book "Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys," which was released in 1974 and continues to be a favorite of many.)

President Joe Biden also issued a statement mourning Collins' death. 

"Many remember him as the astronaut who was by himself, orbiting the moon as Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walked on the lunar surface," President Joe Biden said in a White House statement. "He may not have received equal glory, but he was an equal partner, reminding our nation about the importance of collaboration in service of great goals."

Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk also commented on the passing of Collins, sharing in a NASA statement that "today the nation lost a true pioneer and lifelong advocate for exploration in astronaut Michael Collins ... he helped our nation achieve a defining milestone."

"There is no doubt he inspired a new generation of scientists, engineers, test pilots and astronauts," Jurczyk added. "NASA mourns the loss of this accomplished pilot and astronaut, a friend of all who seek to push the envelope of human potential ... his spirit will go with us as we venture toward farther horizons."

Former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly shared some photos of Collins on Twitter, including a photo of the two speaking, along with the sentiment: "Michael Collins as Command Module Pilot for #Apollo11 was the best spaceflight assignment ever made. His grace, humility & professionalism made him perfect for the historic role and cemented his legacy. I enjoyed the few moments we shared together. #RIP, @AstroMCollins." 

Current NASA astronaut Col. Mike Fincke shared a photo of himself with Collins. "Ad Astra Mike Collins—you are our inspiration. We will continue Carrying the Fire!!" Fincke wrote.

Retired NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski also publicly commented on Collins' passing, tweeting, "Saddened by the news of Michael Collins' passing — a great human being, and a bold-but-humble hero. His book #CarryingTheFire is probably the best space memoir ever written, and inspires me to this day." 

Another retired NASA astronaut, Garrett Reisman, also spoke online about Collins. "I cherish the tales he told," Reisman wrote on Twitter

Pamela Melroy, a former NASA astronaut who was recently nominated for NASA deputy administrator, shared her sadness about Collins' death. 

"So, so sad at the passing of my favorite astronaut @AstroMCollins A hero just outside the spotlight. We will continue Carrying the Fire, Mike," Melroy tweeted.

Particle physicist and science communicator Brian Cox was also saddened by the news, tweeting, "Ah no. R.I.P. Michael Collins. Our links with Apollo are fading away so fast."

Rep. Don Beyer, who serves as the U.S. Representative for Virginia's 8th congressional district, also spoke on Twitter about Collins. 

"Incredibly sad news, we've lost Michael Collins, pilot of the Apollo 11 command module that landed the first humans on the Moon. Before serving as Gemini and Apollo astronaut he was an Air Force pilot; he later worked for NASA and was Director of @airandspace. An all time great," Beyer said. 

Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides, co-creator of Yuri's Night and founder of SpaceKind, celebrated Collins' life and legacy, tweeting a photo of the two together with the words, "Celebrating the incredible life of Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins. March 20, 2019 I had the honor to sit down with him and ask questions for an archival project. I always loved his style, his leadership on the creation of the @airandspace museum & his book #carryingthefire."

Editor's note: This article was updated April 28 at 3 p.m. EDT to include President Biden's statement.

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.