Join Publishing Director Morgan Farr as she shares the lasting impact of Colonel Collins: military kid, pilot, and astronaut.
Colonel Collins: Military Kid, Pilot, and Astronaut
by Morgan D. Farr
Colonel Eileen M. Collins is a retired United States Air Force officer and a former NASA astronaut. She was the first woman to pilot and command a space shuttle mission, and her accomplishments have made her a trailblazer for women in both the military and the field of space exploration.
Born November 19, 1956, in Elmira, New York, Collins grew up in a family that valued education and hard work. Her father was a Korean War veteran who worked for a tire company, and her mother was a teacher. Her parents divorced, and Collins learned hard work and determination through watching her mother. Collins was an excellent student and excelled in math and science. She graduated from Corning Community College with an associate degree in mathematics and science and then attended Syracuse University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics.
A Fighting Pilot
Colonel Collins originally wanted to join the military as a fighter pilot, but the Air Force didn’t allow it. Instead, she became their first female test pilot. In 1978, Collins joined the United States Air Force, completing pilot training and becoming a T-38 instructor pilot. She flew the B-52 Stratofortress bomber. Collins later became a flight instructor at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
Collins was selected by NASA to become an astronaut candidate in 1989 and became a mission specialist in 1991.
After this selection, Collins started to make history as
- the first woman to pilot a space shuttle mission, the Discovery
- the first woman to command a space shuttle mission
- a member of the crew that conducted the first docking of the space shuttle in 1999
- logging over 872 hours in space
Collins has since used her fame and platform to advocate for military service and veterans’ issues. She has worked to support veterans and their families while championing women’s rights in the military community.
“Whenever you’re in trouble, just turn it over to God and let Him take care of it for you.” Colonel Collins said in an article with Irish America Magazine. Her time in the Air Force and her work to further women in the military community has greatly impacted military women today. Her legacy will continue to inspire and motivate future generations to reach for the stars and pursue their dreams, no matter how big or challenging they may seem.