Apollo 11 pilot Michael Collins honored at Kennedy Space Center

A special ceremony was held on Friday at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex honoring astronaut Michael Collins.

As the pilot of the command module for the Apollo 11 mission, he orbited the moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their historic visit to the lunar surface in July of 1969.  Collins died this week at the age of 90 after a long battle with cancer, his family said.

While Collins never actually set foot on the lunar surface, he played a key role in making the moon missions possible.

Outside the exhibit Heroes & Legends Featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, the director of Kennedy Space Center, Robert Cabana, discussed the life and legacy of Collins. His former colleague and a space shuttle astronaut Jon Mcbride said he was a great man.

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"Once you got to know him, he was a tremendous individual and I enjoyed the one-on-one time. I had two or three, several one-on-one times with him in my life and I treasure each and every one of them," said Mcbride.

Collins was born in Rome, Italy, where his father served as a major general in the U.S. Army. He would graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before joining the U.S. Air Force to become a fighter pilot and an experimental test pilot at the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.  He served there from 1959 to 1963, logging more than 4,200 hours of flying time and eventually achieving the rank of major general.

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NASA chose Collins as an astronaut in October 1963.  His first flight was aboard the Gemini 10 mission in July of 1966, when he became the fourth human to conduct a spacewalk and the first person to perform two spacewalks during the same flight.  The space pilot's second flight was the first lunar landing mission.

"We will miss him terribly. Yet we also know how lucky Mike felt to have lived the life he did. We will honor his wish for us to celebrate, not mourn, that life," his family wrote in a statement on Twitter earlier this week. "Please join us in fondly and joyfully remembering his sharp wit, his quiet sense of purpose, and his wise perspective, gained both from looking back at Earth from the vantage of space and gazing across calm waters from the deck of his fishing boat."

The family also asked for privacy and promised details on services would be forthcoming.

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