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Thursday, September 22, 2011

first female pilot and first female commander of a Space Shuttle

Eileen Marie Collins (b. November 19, 1956 in Elmira, New York) is a retired American astronaut and a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel. A former military instructor and test pilot, Collins was the first female pilot and first female commander of a Space Shuttle. She was awarded several medals for her work. Col. Collins has logged 38 days 8 hours and 10 minutes in outer space. Collins retired on May 1, 2006 to pursue private interests, including service as a board member of USAA.

Collins was selected to be an astronaut in 1992 and first flew the Space Shuttle as pilot in 1995 aboard STS-63, which involved a rendezvous between Discovery and the Russian space station Mir. In recognition of her achievement as the first female Shuttle Pilot, she received the Harmon Trophy. She was also the pilot for STS-84 in 1997.Collins was also the first female commander of a U.S. Spacecraft with Shuttle mission STS-93, launched in July 1999, which deployed the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.
Collins's parents were James E. and Rose Marie Collins, immigrants from County Cork, Ireland.She has three siblings. As a child, Collins expressed an interest both in space flight and in being a pilot.
After graduating from Elmira Free Academy in 1974, Collins attended Corning Community College where she earned an associate degree in mathematics/science in 1976. She graduated from Syracuse University in 1978 and then earned 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. Following graduation from Syracuse, she was one of four women chosen for undergraduate pilot training at Vance Air Force Base, OK. After earning her wings, she stayed on a Vance for three years as a T-38 Talon instructor pilot before transitioning to the C-141 Starlifter at Travis Air Force Base. In 1989, Collins became the second female pilot to attend the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School and graduated with class 89B.Collins married pilot Pat Youngs in 1987 and they have two children.

Collins has received the Defense Superior Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, 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 (Operation Urgent Fury), the French Legion of Honor, NASA's Outstanding Leadership Medal and Space Flight Medals, the Free Spirit Award, and the 2006 National Space Trophy. Collins also has an astronomical observatory named in her honor—the Eileen M. Collins Observatory—run by Corning Community College.

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