Born this day in 1956: Eileen Marie Collins (b. 1956), first woman to pilot a space shuttle and the first woman to command a space shuttle mission
Collins was born in Elmira, New York. She nurtured a desire for flight from childhood. Her education includes an associates’ degree in science from Corning Community College (1974), a B.A. in mathematics and economics from Syracuse University (1978); an M.S. in operations research from Stanford University (1986), and an M.A. in space systems management from Webster University (1989). She also trained as an Air Force pilot at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma—one of only four women admitted to the program. She graduated in 1979.
She served in the Air Force as a flight instructor—the Air Force’s first woman flight instructor—and mathematics instructor. By the time she retired from the Air Force in 2005 she had achieved the rank of colonel and clocked more than 6,751 hours of flight time in 30 different types of aircraft.
Collins was tapped for astronaut training in 1990, becoming an astronaut the following year. Her first few years were spent in support roles. Then, on February 3, 1995 she piloted the space shuttle Discovery on the first joint U.S.-Russian space mission, rendezvousing with the Mir space station. She was the first woman to pilot a space shuttle. In 1999 Collins also became the first woman to command a space shuttle mission, aboard the Columbia. In all, she logged more than 872 hours in space over the course of 4 space flights.
Collins has received numerous honors, including:
- Defense Superior Service Medal
- Distinguished Flying Cross
- Defense Meritorious Service Medal
- Air Force Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster
- Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster
- Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for service in Grenada
- French Legion of Honor
- NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal
- NASA Space Flight Medals
- Free Spirit Award
- National Space Trophy.
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