Eileen Collins, Space Shuttle Pilot and Commander

Eileen Collins did not tumble into her endeavors as a  first woman; she arrived there because of her own determination. Her love of flying and commitment to her own education resulted in her historic feats.

EILEEN COLLINS, youngerCol. Collins was infected with flying at an early age. Born in Elmira, New York, the “soaring capital” of the United States, she grew up watching gliders fly off Harris Hill. During high school she worked at a pizza parlor to save up the $1,000 she needed for private flying lessons.

Her parents could not afford to pay for her higher education but she was as determined to continue her education as to learn to fly, so she worked her way through Corning Community College, studying science. After earning a scholarship to Syracuse University she completed bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and economics. Later she earned two master’s degrees including one from Stanford.

Even at the age of nine, she dreamed of going into space. When she was accepted into the Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training School, she was one of four (chosen from a pool of 120 women) to be admitted. After her training, she became the first woman to serve as a flight instructor and the second woman to be accepted for Test Pilot School. She also taught mathematics at the Air Force Academy.

While attending test pilot training, she was selected for the space program. As an astronaut she initially worked on engineering support and later in Mission Control. After paying her dues, she began to fly in space and was the first woman to pilot a space shuttle, rendezvousing with the Russian space station Mir. Later she was the first female commander of a U.S. spacecraft when NASA deployed the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. She also walked in space.

After her space shuttle flight that docked with Mir, Col. Collins received the Harmon Trophy, an annual award for achievements in space. In 1995 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in her home state of New York, where flying first captured her imagination.

LEARN MORE:

Gugliotta, Guy. “Rocket Woman: A Commander’s Rise in the Ranks.” Seattle Times (July 6, 2005): p. A3.

Manier, Jeremy. “Shuttle Leader: Low-Key, Persistent, Unflappable.” Chicago Tribune (July 11, 2005).

Podesta, Jane Sims, Anne-Marie O’Neill, and Laurel Calkins. “Command Performance: Astronaut Eileen Collins.” People (May 11, 1998): p. 225.

Stone, Brad. “Space Travel: Great Space Coaster?” Newsweek (June 28, 2004): p. 12.

Thomas, Cathy Booth. “Mom Will Be Away for a While.” Time (April 18, 2005): p. 20.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK:

What obstacles hamper the determination you need to achieve your dream?

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