COL Eileen Collins is a retired Air Force Test Pilot and was the first woman to pilot the space shuttle, as well as the first woman to command a space shuttle. When she first entered the Air Force, women were not allowed to fly combat aircraft, a ban that stood until 1993. But that did not stop Eileen Collins from flying every aircraft she was allowed to and blazing a trail for female pilots in the Air Force and at NASA.
She has logged over 6751 flight hours. She is highly educated, holding a B.A. in mathematics & economics, an M.S. in operations research, and an M.A. in space systems management, as well as honorary degrees. She has been a pilot, a mathematics instructor, and flight instructor, and went through the prestigious Air Force Test Pilot School. Married to a fellow pilot, she is also a mother of two. Her awards would take several paragraphs to list.
COL Collins was selected for astronaut training in 1990 and in her sixteen years at NASA she worked a variety of jobs and flew four STS missions, for a total of 872 hours in space. She made two trips to the Mir space station, twice executing one of the most difficult space piloting tasks there is: docking with a space station. She also had one of the toughest missions imaginable on her final flight, STS-114, when she commanded the first mission back to space following the Columbia tragedy.
I like her perspective on genders on the job, which reflects my own similar experience in the military:
“Within the job itself, the male-female commander, the male-female astronaut, it’s really the same,” Collins said. “What really matters is how the person does their job.”
And I especially love her life advice for young people aspiring to a similar career:
“My advice to young people is this. Focus on three major areas: academics, activities, and your physical health. I encourage you, especially when you get into high school and you can choose some of the courses you take, to take the tough courses. Don’t just avoid a course because you think you might not get an “A.” Take the tough courses like math, science, and engineering. Learn a variety of things while you have the opportunity.”
COL Collins is an inspiring female role model in not just STEM fields, but also for kids who want to be pilots, astronauts, serve in the military, or really to excel in any chosen field.