Collins, Eileen Marie (1956–)
Eileen Collins was the first woman to command a Space Shuttle mission. A United States Air Force colonel, Collins holds various degrees
including a B.A. in mathematics and economics from Syracuse University in
1978, an M.S. in operations research from Stanford University in 1986, and
an M.A. in space systems management from Webster University in 1989. Selected
by NASA in January 1990, she became an astronaut in July 1991. Collins served
as the first female pilot of the Shuttle on mission STS-63 (February 2–11,
1995), during which the Shuttle completed its first docking with Mir.
Again she piloted the Shuttle on the joint American-Russian mission STS-84
(May 15–24, 1997) before being appointed commander of STS-93 (July
22–27, 1999), the highlight of which was the successful deployment
of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. She returned
to space in July 2005 as commander of Discovery on the first Shuttle
flight following the loss of Columbia during reentry. She left NASA
in 2006 to pursue private interests and spend more time with her family.
Eileen Collins first learnt about flying in books, and at the age of 16
began to save to pay for flying lessons. "My family never had the money
to pay for flying lessons or... even a ride in an airplane," she said in
an interview on the NASA website. "I had saved up $1,000, and I took that
to my local airport, at age 19," she said. "I asked them to teach me how
to fly." She began military pilot training for the Air Force in 1978, the
same year NASA opened the Shuttle program to women.