landed the first two astronauts on the Moon on July 20, 1969, concluding the US space race to the Moon. The Apollo landing saw astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the Moon for the first time in human history. But the two astronauts were part of a three-man crew and without Command Module pilot Michael Collins in lunar orbit, the Moon landing would have never been a success. Now, as the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing fast approaches, Mr Collins has unveiled an incredible photo, which hasn’t seen the light of day in half-a-century.

The retired astronaut took to Twitter this week to share a photo of the three Apollo 11 astronauts posing together in front of a model of the Moon.

The picture features the late Commander Armstrong, Lunar Module pilot Aldrin, 89, and Mr Collins, 88.

Mr Collins tweeted: “The crew. Found this at the bottom of a box. Don’t think it was ever used by @NASA. #TBT @TheRealBuz.”

The three NASA astronauts smiling in the group shot were all in their 30s when they made their historic voyage to the Moon.

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NASA Moon landing: Astronaut Michael Collins discovered this photo from 50 years ago (Image: MICHAEL COLLINS/NASA)

NASA Moon landing: Apollo 11 blast off

NASA Moon landing: Apollo 11 landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969 (Image: NASA)

Mr Collins’ photo also features the astronaut’s photograph.

NASA may have not used this particular picture but other iconic images from the same shoot have been used over the years.

The photo has now been seen by thousands who praised Mr Collins and his crewmates.

Astrophysicist Gianluca Masi, head of the Italian Virtual Telescope Project, tweeted: “Love it, Michael, thanks for sharing!”

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Twitter user @catpancake said: “Good thing NASA didn’t use this one. You would have had hordes of screaming girls following you everywhere like the Beatles.

“Great photo. Thank you for sharing this, sir.”

And Wafa Sadri said: “This picture shows three good friends embarking on a historic journey together. Such a human picture, I love it.”

When Commander Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon, Mr Collins was left in charge of the Command Module in lunar orbit.

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NASA Moon landing: Apollo 11 mission crew

NASA Moon landing: The Apollo 11 astronaut found the photo in a box (Image: MICHAEL COLLINS TWITTER)

Recounting his time spent orbiting the Moon in complete solitude, the astronaut told the Smithsonian Museum of his time at the far side of the Moon.

The crew. Found this at the bottom of a box. Don’t think it was ever used by NASA

Michael Collins, Apollo 11 astronaut

He said: “It was a wonderful experience and it was nice in a way that you might not expect but the fact that it was quiet, silent utterly, was good, not bad.

“It gave me a little time off from Mission Control telling me this, that and the other.

“So, I had enjoyed the time by myself.”

Prior to the Apollo programme, Mr Collins served as a pilot for NASA’s Gemini programme.

And after the success of the Apollo 11 mission, the astronaut retired from flight for good.

NASA said: “Collins retired from the Air Force as a major general and left NASA in 1970.

“He not only served as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs but also became the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air & Space Museum, serving from 1971 to 1978 and overseeing the museum building’s construction and opening.”

NASA Apollo 11: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins Buzz Aldrin

NASA Apollo 11 crew: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin (Image: NASA)

NASA Moon landing: Michael Armstrong astronaut

NASA Moon landing: Michael Collins retired from space flight in 1970 (Image: NASA)

Quick facts about NASA’s Apollo 11 mission:

1. Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their achievement.

2. The three astronauts brought back many examples of Moon rock, which they had to declare at customs upon return.

3. Apollo 11 took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 16, 1969.

4. In total, NASA’s Apollo 11 crew spent eight days in space on their historic voyage.

5. NASA’s Apollo 11 returned to Earth and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969.

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