- Filed Under
* Six shuttle missions: STS-47 in September 1992; STS-66 in November 1994; STS-77 in May 1996; STS-85 in August 1997; STS-95 in October/November 1998; and STS-103 in December 1999.
* Flew aboard Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, logging 1,383 hours in space.
* Commanded NASA’s “John Glenn mission” — the legendary Mercury astronaut’s return to space at age 77 in 1998.
* Four shuttle missions: STS-63 in February 1995; STS-84 in May 1997; STS-93 in July 1999 and STS-114 in July/August 2005.
* Flew aboard Discovery, Atlantis and Columbia, logging 872 hours in space.
* Five shuttle missions: STS 61-A in October/November 1985; STS-32 in January 1990; STS-50 in June/July 1992; STS-71 in June/July 1995; and STS-89 in January 1998.
* Flew aboard Challenger, Columbia, Atlantis and Endeavour, logging 1,208 hours in space.
* Served as president and CEO of the Seattle Museum of Flight, now leads a new STEM education center at the University of Houston.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Eileen Collins is an accomplished aviator and astronaut, the first woman to pilot a space shuttle, the first woman to command a U.S. space mission and one of the first women to graduate from U.S. Air Force test pilot school.
But if you had known her in high school, you never would have guessed the shy bookworm would climb so high.
“I always tell people if there was a high school award for the person least likely to be an astronaut, it would have been me,” said Collins. “I had no idea I would be an astronaut, much less in the hall of fame.”
Collins, 56, will be inducted Saturday into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame along with fellow fliers Curt Brown and Bonnie Dunbar.
The 2013 Hall of Fame Class is the first to include two women, and the first in which women outnumber men.
Brown, Collins and Dunbar will join the ranks of Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, Sally Ride, Alan Shepard, Jim Lovell and John Young during a 2 p.m. ceremony Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
More than 30 Hall of Fame astronauts will be on hand to welcome the new inductees. Among those expected to attend: moonwalkers Buzz Aldrin, Edgar Mitchell and Charlie Duke; veteran shuttle pilot and mission commander Robert Crippen.
Brown, 57, is a veteran of six shuttle missions. He commanded Discovery on a 1998 flight that returned legendary Mercury astronaut John Glenn to space at age 77, some 36 years after Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth.
A retired Air Force colonel, Brown also commanded the third of five missions to service NASA's flagship Hubble Space Telescope. He piloted a Japanese Spacelab mission, an atmospheric research flight, and a technology demonstration mission to deploy a huge inflatable antenna.
Dunbar, 64, is a veteran of five shuttle missions, including a German Spacelab mission in 1985 that was the only flight to carry a crew of eight astronauts.
Dunbar also served as a payload commander on a mission that paved the way to research now being done on the International Space Station. She also flew on the first and eighth of nine shuttle missions to Russia's Mir Space Station.
Collins, 56, a retired Air Force colonel, piloted Discovery on a 1995 mission to rendezvous and make a close approach to the Mir Space Station, and then the sixth shuttle-Mir docking mission in 1997.
In 1999, Collins commanded Columbia on a mission to deploy one of NASA's “Great Observatories” — the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.
Then in 2005, Collins commanded the crew on the first post-Columbia test flight, a mission that returned the United States to human space exploration after a 2.5-year hiatus.
Her skyrocketing career began in Elmira, N.Y., home of the National Soaring Museum on Harris Hill, part of a ridge system that rises 700 feet above the Chemung Valley.
Harris Hill is renown for motor-less glider flights. As a kid, during summer soaring season, Collins would watch glider pilots fly with an eye toward doing the same some day. Her family couldn't afford flying lessons, so as soon as she was 16, Collins got a job and started scrimping and saving.
A natural talent for mathematics and science, Collins went to Elmira Free Academy, graduated in 1974, and then went on to Corning Community College, where she earned a two-year scholarship to Syracuse University.
Along the way, Collins got her pilot's license, a bachelor's degree in mathematics and economics from Syracuse, and admission to U.S. Air Force undergraduate pilot training.
“So things happened pretty rapidly between, I would say, high school and the end of my four years of college,” Collins said. “Things changed pretty rapidly due to the expanding of the flying opportunities for women in the military.”
Time flies, too. Collins now is retired from NASA and the nation's shuttle fleet no longer is flying. For Collins, the next phase of U.S. human spaceflight — expeditions beyond Earth orbit — cannot come along soon enough.
“I am very impatient. I think a lot of people are very impatient. Some people believe there is no mission defined. I believe there is a mission defined. I think it needs to be refined,” she said, adding: “I think we certainly could move faster.”