Here’s to Colonel Eileen Marie Collins who helps us celebrate Women’s History Month and St. Patrick’s Day!
On July 30th 1999, 30 years and two days after the first successful moonwalk, Irish American Colonel Eileen Marie Collins became the first woman to command a U.S. spacecraft. Eileen Collins was one of four children born to immigrant parents from County Cork in Elmira New York. Eileen expressed an early interest in flying, her parents often taking her to the local airport to watch aircraft take off and land. She worked to pay her tuition at the local community college where upon graduation she was awarded a scholarship to Syracuse University. At Syracuse, she earned degrees in Mathematics and Economics and joined the Air Force ROTC.
In the course of her 27 year Air Force/NASA career, Eileen Collins would attain the rank of Colonel and log 6,751 flight hours in 30 different types of aircraft and 872 hours in space. Collins was selected for the Astronaut program in 1990. She was the first woman to pilot a Shuttle in 1995 in the first joint American/Russian Mission to the Mir Space Station. She would pilot a subsequent mission to the Mir before her third shuttle flight where she was commander. In recognition of this special moment, Collins carried a scarf that had once belonged to aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart. In her fourth and final Shuttle Mission, Eileen Collins would be the first pilot to take the shuttle through a 360 degree pitch maneuver to ensure that the shuttle had not incurred damage during launch.