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In photos: Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins' space missions

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins lived an incredibly colorful and adventurous life; from his birth in Rome to his early work in NASA's Gemini program and his pivotal, historic flight around the moon.

Collins died at age 90 after a long battle with cancer, his family and NASA reported Wednesday (April 28). The astronaut began his career in the Air Force after graduating from West Point. He went on to serve as an experimental test flight officer with the Air Force, logging 5,000 hours of flying time. An accomplished pilot, he was selected as one of NASA's third group of astronauts in 1963 and served as a backup pilot for the Gemini 7 mission as part of the agency's Gemini program.

He served as a pilot for Gemini 10 in 1966 before being chosen as the command module pilot for Apollo 11, the first lunar landing mission in history. While he did not walk on the moon with Apollo 11, Collins safely flew the crew to, around and back from the moon, safely rendezvousing with the two moonwalkers Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. 

As people from around the world mourn his death and celebrate his life, we reflect on Collins' life through the photographs he took and the images of him through the years, from his days with Gemini to Apollo 11 and more.

Related: NASA's historic Apollo 11 moon landing in pictures

Gemini era

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Astronaut Michael Collins checks out a camera before launching with Gemini 10.

(Image credit: NASA)

Astronaut Michael Collins checks out a camera before launching with Gemini 10.

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Astronaut Michael Collins is in a spacesuit inside of a spacecraft during NASA's Gemini 10 mission.

(Image credit: NASA)

Astronaut Michael Collins is in a spacesuit inside of a spacecraft during NASA's Gemini 10 mission.

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Astronaut Michael Collins conducts a water egress training activity for NASA's Gemini 10 spaceflight.

(Image credit: NASA)

Astronaut Michael Collins conducts a water egress training activity for NASA's Gemini 10 spaceflight.

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Astronauts Michael Collins (left) and John W. Young (right) on board NASA's Motor Retriever during a water egress training activity.

(Image credit: NASA)

Astronauts Michael Collins (left) and John W. Young (right) on board NASA's Motor Retriever during a water egress training activity.

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Astronauts Michael Collins (left) and John W. Young (right) suit up during the countdown for NASA's Gemini 10 spaceflight.

(Image credit: NASA)

Astronauts Michael Collins (left) and John W. Young (right) suit up during the countdown for NASA's Gemini 10 spaceflight.

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The crew for NASA's Gemini 10 mission, astronauts Michael Collins (foreground) and John W. Young (background) suit up for launch.

(Image credit: NASA)

The crew for NASA's Gemini 10 mission, astronauts Michael Collins (foreground) and John W. Young (background) suit up for launch. 

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The Gemini 10 crew, Astronauts John W. Young (left) and Michael Collins (right), enjoy breakfast before launch.

(Image credit: NASA)

The Gemini 10 crew, Astronauts John W. Young (left) and Michael Collins (right), enjoy breakfast before launch.

Apollo era

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In this image, Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins captured the Earth with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the lunar module. Collins snapped this photo as the Apollo 11 lunar module "Eagle" was returning to the command module, on July 21, 1969.

(Image credit: NASA)

In this image, Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins captured the Earth with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the lunar module. Collins snapped this photo as the Apollo 11 lunar module "Eagle" was returning to the command module, on July 21, 1969.

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Astronaut Michael Collins wears his spacesuit during a final communications system check before boarding the Apollo 11 mission, on July 16, 1969.

(Image credit: NASA)

Astronaut Michael Collins wears his spacesuit during a final communications system check before boarding the Apollo 11 mission, on July 16, 1969.

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Astronaut Michael Collins seems to be talking about his spacesuit glove with NASA technician Joe Schmitt before the Apollo 11 launch.

(Image credit: NASA)

Astronaut Michael Collins seems to be talking about his spacesuit glove with NASA technician Joe Schmitt before the Apollo 11 launch. 

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Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong (right) waves on the way to launch with fellow crew member Michael Collins (left).

(Image credit: NASA)

Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong (right) waves on the way to launch with fellow crew member Michael Collins (left). 

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Astronaut Michael Collins is pictured inside a mockup Apollo command module before the Apollo 11 flight.

(Image credit: NASA)

Astronaut Michael Collins is pictured inside a mockup Apollo command module before the Apollo 11 flight.

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The Apollo 11 crew smiles in quarantine after their mission. From the left, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin.

(Image credit: NASA)

The Apollo 11 crew smiles in quarantine after their mission. From the left, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin.

Later life

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The Apollo 11 crew meets President Barack Obama. From the left, astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong.

(Image credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA)

The Apollo 11 crew meets President Barack Obama. From the left, astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong. 

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Astronaut Michael Collins (right) and NASA Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana (left) shake hands at Launch Complex 39A on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch, July 16, 2019.

(Image credit: Frank Michaux/NASA)

Astronaut Michael Collins (right) and NASA Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana (left) shake hands at Launch Complex 39A on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch, on July 16, 2019.

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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