WoW Blog (Woman of the Week) Blog

WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

Do you know of a great woman in engineering that should be recognized? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add her to the blog. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

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Woman of the Week: Eileen Collins

Posted March 16, 2009 12:00 AM by Sharkles

Eileen Collins was the first woman to pilot and command a United States space shuttle.

Early Life

Eileen Collins was in born on November 19, 1956 in Elmira, New York. While growing up during the Space Age of the 1960s, Collins became interested in space flight at a young age. She watched Star Trek and Lost in Space, television shows to which her mother attributed her interest in space. "Eileen's love of flying really started with Star Trek," her mother explained. "She used to come straight home from school and watch it whenever she could".

Collins' parents would also take Eileen to the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport to watch planes take off and land. In addition, Collins was inspired by famous women aviators such as Amelia Earhart and the women military pilots of World War II. Their stories encouraged Collins to save money to earn her pilot's license.

Education and Experience

After graduating from the Elmira Free Academy in 1974, Eileen Collins attended Corning Community College and earned an Associate's degree in mathematics / science. She went on to attend Syracuse University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and economics in 1978.

In 1979, Collins completed U.S. Air Force undergraduate pilot training at Vance Air Force Base (AFB) in Oklahoma. Upon graduation, Collins worked at Vance AFB as a T-38 instructor pilot until 1982. She then became a C-141 aircraft commander and instructor pilot at Travis Air Force Base in California from 1983-1985.

After spending a year as a student at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), Eileen Collins became an assistant professor in mathematics at the U.S. Air Academy in Colorado and a T-41 instructor pilot from 1986-1989. During this time, Collins also received a Master of Science degree in operations research from Stanford University in 1986, and a Master of Arts degree in space systems management from Webster University in 1989.


Eileen Collins was selected for NASA training in 1990 and officially became an astronaut in 1991. She made history as the first female space shuttle pilot in 1995 aboard STS-63, a shuttle mission which involved a rendezvous between Discovery and the Russian space station Mir. In recognition of her achievement, she received the Harmon Trophy, a prize that is described as the "American award for the most outstanding international achievements in the arts and/or science of aeronautics for the preceding year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration."

Additionally, Eileen Collins became the first female commander of a U.S spacecraft in 1999 with the launch of shuttle mission STS-93. It was this mission that deployed the Chandra X-ray observatory.

In July 2005, Collins commanded space shuttle mission STS-114 to test safety improvements to the International Space Station (ISS). During this mission, Collins became the first astronaut to fly a space shuttle through a 360-degree pitch maneuver, which was necessary so that astronauts aboard the ISS could photograph the belly of the space shuttle to check for debris-related damages.

Eileen Collins retired from NASA on May 1, 2006. During her time with the space agency, she logged over 872 hours in space. Since her retirement, she has been a space shuttle analyst for CNN, covering launches and landings.

Awards and Honors

Eileen Collins has received many awards throughout her career, including:

  • Defense Superior Service Medal
  • Distinguished Flying Cross
  • Defense Meritorious Service Medal with one oak-leaf cluster
  • Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak-leaf cluster
  • Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
  • French Legion of Honor
  • NASA's Outstanding Leadership Medal and Space Flight Medals
  • Free Spirit Award
  • National Space Trophy
  • Adler Planetarium Women in Space Science Award

Collins was also inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, and been named by Encyclopedia Britannica as one of the top 300 women in history to have changed the world. Eileen Collins has also received honorary Doctor of Science degrees from Elmira College and the National University of Ireland.



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