February 3, 1995: First Woman to Pilot Space Shuttle (Eileen Collins)

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A Brief History

On February 3, 1995, Space Shuttle mission STS-63 lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral Florida for space with a woman pilot for the first time.

Digging Deeper

Eileen Collins, born in Elmira, New York in 1956, graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in mathematics and economics from Syracuse University in 1979 and went on to earn 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.

STS-93 Commander, Eileen M. Collins shown wearing an orange Launch and Entry Suit (LES) with helmet.  Collins was the first woman to command a Space Shuttle mission.

A career in the Air Force was in this remarkable lady’s blood, and in 1979 she completed pilot training, one of the few women at the time to do so.  Highly skilled as a pilot, she became an instructor for the next 3 years before flying C-141 cargo planes all over the world.  From 1986 to 1989 Collins served as a mathematics professor at the US Air Force Academy.  In 1990 Eileen became just the second woman to complete test pilot training, and was selected for training as an astronaut.

On the 1995 Discovery mission Collins flew as second in command on her historic flight as a Shuttle pilot, on a mission that linked up with the Russian Mir space station.  Proving capable of everything she does, Collins gave birth to a daughter (she had married a fellow Air Force officer) in 1996.  Eileen Collins was ready for more space missions by 1997 when she rocketed into space aboard the shuttle Atlantis.  Then, in 1999 Collins became the first woman Space Shuttle Commander when she took Columbia up to deploy a giant space telescope (Chandra X-ray Observatory).

Discovery launches on STS-63

Eileen Collins retired from the Air Force as a Colonel in 2005, and a year later retired as an astronaut.  Having earned the status of Master Astronaut, she has also earned numerous military awards such as the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Legion of Honor (from France) among others.  Enshrined in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, she has also earned the Harmon Trophy (1995), a spot in the US Astronaut Hall of Fame, honorary degrees and other awards ad infinitum!

Working in the private sector as a member of the board of USAA (military service personnel insurance company), Collins spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio in 2016 amid speculation that she may be named NASA Administrator.

Collins speaking at the 2016 Republican National Convention

With an incredible 38 days, 8 hours and 10 minutes in space, this remarkable woman would certainly seem well qualified to serve as the head of NASA, or for that matter just about any other job President Trump may ask of her.  Eileen Collins deserves a place in the pantheon of great aviators and aviatrixes, a real American heroine.

Question for students: Who is your favorite female astronaut and why?

Mission Commander Collins and STS-114 crew on their way to launch pad.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see her official biography.

The featured image in this article, a photograph of crew members assigned to the STS-63 mission including (front left to right) Janice E. Voss, mission specialist; Eileen M. Collins, pilot; (the first woman to pilot a Space Shuttle), James D. Wetherbee, commander; and Vladmir G. Titov (Cosmonaut), while standing in the rear are mission specialists Bernard A. Harris (the first Afro-American to walk in space), and C. Michael Foale, was catalogued by Marshall Space Flight Center of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under Photo ID: MSFC-9414225.  This file is in the public domain in the United States because it was solely created by NASA. NASA copyright policy states that “NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted“.  Launched aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on February 3, 1995 at 12:22:04 am (EST), the primary payload for the mission was the SPACEHAB-3.  STS-63 marked the first approach and fly around by the Shuttle with the Russian space station Mir.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.