FORT MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- As a young child, Eileen Collins loved
to sit with her dad in the family car and watch airplanes take off
and land. The roar of the powerful engines and the grace of the
aircraft as they seemed to float in the air always held excitement
and enchantment for the young daughter of Irish immigrants.
U.S. Air Force (Ret.) Col. Eileen Collins,
pilot, astronaut, and first female shutter commander (Graphic by Sylvia Saab)
That love of flying would lead the Air Force colonel to
be honored as the first woman to command a space shuttle
mission, STS-93, in July of 1999, and place the NASA
astronaut into the history books.
After earning a
bachelor of arts degree in mathematics and economics from
Syracuse University in 1978, she began her Air Force career
in 1979. Collins graduated from the Air Force undergraduate
pilot training at Vance Air Force Base, Okla., where she was
a T-38 instructor pilot until 1982. In 1983, she moved to
Travis AFB, Calif., and became a C-141 aircraft commander
and instructor pilot until 1985.
She earned a master
of science degree in operations research at Stanford
University in 1986 and a master of arts degree in space
systems management from Webster University in 1989.
After a stint as an instructor at the U.S. Air Force Academy
in Colorado Springs, Colo., she was selected as only the
second female to attend Air Force Test Pilot School at
Edwards AFB, Calif. It was on Jan. 16, 1990, at 10:20 a.m.,
that she recalled the moment that she was first notified
that she would be the first female shuttle pilot select.
"I was very excited and happy," said Collins, who
applied for both a pilot and mission specialist slot. "But
even though I'll remember that day for the rest of my life,
it really didn't sink in until I graduated. I knew that
there had never been a woman shuttle pilot before. Now, I'd
be the first."
Collins had a total of four space
shuttle missions during her 15 years as a NASA astronaut,
logging in more than 872 hours in space.
shuttle mission in February 1995 was on the shuttle
Discovery and was made historic by becoming the first flight
of the new joint U.S. and Russia space program. During the
flight, the shuttle rendezvoused with the Russian Space
Station Mir, and included satellite deployment and retrieval
and a space walk. During that flight, Collins became the
first woman to pilot a space shuttle.
mission in May of 1997 was on the space shuttle Atlantis and
again took her to the Space Station Mir. That mission
transferred more than four tons of equipment and supplies to
It was her third mission that sent her into
the history books, in July of 1999, when she became the
first woman to command a space shuttle mission. The space
shuttle Columbia deployed the Chandra X-ray Observatory,
designed to conduct comprehensive studies of the universe
such as exploding stars, quasars and black holes.
final mission, aboard the Discovery, during late July and
early August of 2005, was the "return to flight" mission
following the disaster in February of 2003, when the space
shuttle Columbia exploded prior to re-entry. That Discovery
mission docked with the international space station and
tested and evaluated new procedures for flight safety and
inspection and repair techniques.
In May of 2006, Collins announced her retirement.
miss being in space... but I flew four times, and all four missions
were very busy because you're constantly working and under stress.
You have a mission; your boss is the people of the country and you
don't want to disappoint the people. Usually toward the end of the
mission, you can let your hair down a little bit because the primary
mission's done and everything is put away. That was when you could
put your face against the glass, stretch out your arms, and you
don't even see the ship around you, just the Earth below, and you
feel like you're flying over the planet."
serves on the board of the NASA Advisory Council Space Operations
Committee and stays busy consulting and speaking circuit.
By USAF Desiree N. Palacios
Air Force News Service
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