Eileen Collins Biography

When the space shuttle Columbia blasted off on July 23, 1999, pilot Eileen Collins became NASA's first female shuttle commander.


In 1990, Eileen Collins was only the second woman to graduate as a test pilot and be selected as a NASA astronaut. She became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle mission during the Discovery's rendezvous with the Mir space station in 1995. By 1999, she had logged 419 hours in space and was given command of the space shuttle Columbia, another first for a woman.

Early Life and Education

Like Amelia Earhart, Valentina Tereshkova (a Soviet cosmonaut and the first woman in space, in 1963), and Sally Ride (the first American woman in space, in 1983), Collins has become a pioneer in the world of aviation, as the first woman to command a space shuttle mission.

From the time she was very young, Eileen Marie Collins wanted to be a pilot. She earned an associate's degree in science from Corning Community College in New York and a B.A. in mathematics and economics from Syracuse University in 1978. After college, Collins enrolled in the pilot training course at Oklahoma's Vance Air Force Base; her class was one of the first at the base to include women. She completed the course in 1979 and then stayed on at Vance for three years as an instructor.

In 1983, Collins was transferred to Travis Air Force Base in California, where she flew C-141 cargo planes as part of military and humanitarian missions all over the world. She received an M.S. degree in operations research from Stanford University in 1986 and an M.A. in space systems management from Webster University in 1989. That same year, she was accepted at the competitive Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, also in California. In 1990, she became only the second woman to graduate as a test pilot and was selected to be an astronaut by NASA.

First Female Astronaut

In February 1995, after several years of training with NASA, Collins became the first female astronaut to pilot a space shuttle mission, she served as second-in-command of the shuttle Discovery during its unprecedented rendezvous with the Russian space station Mir. In 1996, she took time off to give birth to a daughter, with her husband Pat Youngs, a former Air Force pilot who works for Delta Airlines. A year later, in May 1997, Collins piloted her second mission, on the shuttle Atlantis, during its delivery of 7,000 pounds of equipment to Mir.

Collins had logged 419 hours in space by the time she was chosen by NASA to become its first female shuttle commander. The shuttle Columbia, under Collins' command, made history on July 23, 1999, when it blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on its way to the deployment of a $1.5 billion telescope into earth's orbit.

In 2005, Collins retired from the Air Force and in 2006 from NASA. Since her retirement, Collins has received numerous awards and honors, including induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame and inclusion on the Encyclopedia Britannica's list of 300 Women Who Changed the World.

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