efe-epaCape Canaveral, USA

Astronaut Michael Collins, one of the three members of the first mission to the Moon, paid tribute to Neil Armstrong and described him as the best commander they could have had.

Collins spoke from the launch platform in Cape Canaveral, northeast of Florida, on Tuesday for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.

He described Armstrong, who died in 2012, as the smartest astronaut, a great engineer and the "perfect" choice to command the mission.

"He was very intelligent, he had an extremely wide background of knowledge, scientific knowledge, historical knowledge really probably more than scientific," he said during a televised interview by NASA.

The 88-year-old said he wanted to highlight Armstrong's gifts as a spokesman for him and their colleague Buzz Aldrin, who is now aged 89.

"He did a superlative job as a crew commander, no complaints there (...) he was a masterful speaker," Collins said of the first person to walk on the surface of the Moon.

"He was an introverted person in many ways, he didn’t wanna grab the microphone but if he found the microphone thrust in front of him he could use it with a wonderful advantage," he added.

The former astronaut also praised the initiative of President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to send a man to the Moon before the end of the 1960s.

“I don’t wanna go back to the Moon I wanna go direct to Mars, I call it the JFK Mars Express,” he added.

He praised the role of women in the new space age, specifically in NASA’s Artemis program to colonize the Moon and Mars.

“Well I love the word Artemis the twin of Apollo, I think that’s a wonderful name and more important than the name is the wonderful concept I think that women can do anything that men can do in space, perhaps they can do it better,” he added.

Collins also answered a resounding "no" when asked if he had felt like the loneliest man in space while his two companions walked the Moon.

He said he enjoyed a hot coffee and had 40 minutes of peace, tranquility and calm. EFE-EPA

ims/rb