Ever since she was a little girl, Eileen Collins wanted to be a pilot. She attended Corning Community College in New York and then completed her B.A. in mathematics and economics at Syracuse University in 1978. After Syracuse, she was chosen along with three other women for Air Force pilot training at Oklahoma’s Vance Air Base; her class was one of the base’s first to include women. After earning her wings in 1979, she stayed on for three years as a T-38 Talon pilot instructor before being transferred to Travis Air Force Base in California for cross-training in the C-141 Starlifter. She earned a master’s degree in operations research at Stanford in 1986, followed by a second master’s in space systems management from Webster University in 1989.
That same year, Collins was accepted at the competitive Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. In 1989, she became only the second woman to graduate as a test pilot. She rose to the rank of Colonel in the Air Force before being being selected by NASA to be an astronaut in 1990. In 1995, Collins became the first female astronaut to pilot a space shuttle mission, serving as second-in-command of the shuttle Discovery. She piloted a second mission on the space shuttle Atlantis in 1997. After having logged over 400 hours in space, she was chosen by NASA to command the space shuttle Columbia on a mission in 1999, and became the first astronaut ever to pilot any of the shuttles through a 360 degree pitch maneuver, as well as the first American woman ever to command a space shuttle. In 2006, Collins retired from NASA to pursue other interests and spend time with her family. Since her retirement, Collins has received numerous awards and honors, including induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and has made appearances as a commentator covering space shuttle flights for CNN.
“My daughter just thinks that all moms fly the Space Shuttle.”