KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – NASA astronaut Michael Collins, who orbited the moon alone while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their historic first steps on the lunar surface, was honored Friday with a remembrance ceremony at Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex.
The astronaut died of cancer Wednesday in Naples. He was 90.
The ceremony, meant to honor his life and legacy, was held at 10 a.m. on Friday outside Heroes & Legends featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.
According to the space center, Collins joined NASA as part of the third group of astronauts in 1963. He went on to fly on two missions, Gemini X in 1966 and the famous Apollo 11 in 1969. During Gemini X, Collins became the first person to perform two spacewalks. Collins also served as the Command Module Pilot on Apollo 11.
“Michael Collins was a legend of the Gemini and Apollo space programs,” Therrin Protze, Chief Operating Officer of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex said. “A human space exploration champion, and most importantly, a father and family was the most important thing to his life, his kid just called him dad — to us he was a legend.”
While he didn’t land on the moon with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, Collins played a critical role in making sure the crew returned home safely by performing the final re-docking with the Lunar Module, nicknamed “Eagle,” after Aldrin and Armstrong ascended from the lunar surface.
“He always got asked, ‘what did you think about being up there alone, you know, Neil and Buzz were down on the service of the moon, was it lonely?’” Robert Cabana, Director of Kenedy Space Center said. “And he said, ‘heck no, I really enjoyed having more time to myself up there and having a little room to move around’ while he was up in that capsule, while those guys were down on the surface of the moon.”
Collins was inducted into four halls of fame, including the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1993 and the National Aviation Hall of Fame (NAHF) in 1985, according to KSC.
Cabana said Collins was impressed by NASA’s recent accomplishments and believes that he would be pleased by the space agency’s plans for the future.
“I know Mike wanted us to go onto Mars. He was a huge proponent of exploring and establishing a presence beyond our home planet — in the conversations that I had with him — and that’s what we’re getting ready to do,” Cabana said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Use the form below to sign up for the ClickOrlando.com space newsletter, sent every Wednesday afternoon.