Eileen Collins, Colonel, U.S. Air Force
Eileen Marie Collins had always dreamed of being a pilot since childhood. Not only did she earn her pilot’s license, but she did it while working on a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics and Economics from Syracuse University, a Master of Science degree in Operations Research from Stanford University and a Master of Arts degree in Space Systems Management from Webster University.
Eileen went to Air Force Pilot Training at Vance Air Force Base (AFB), Oklahoma where she became an instructor pilot for T-38 and C-141 aircraft. Later in her Air Force career, she found herself involved in the Invasion of Grenada in 1983 as an aircraft commander attached to a C-141. She graduated from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1986, became an assistant professor in mathematics and a T-41 instructor pilot at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and finally, graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School in 1990. At this point, she had earned the rank of Colonel and acquired over 5,000 flight hours in 30 different aircraft.
In the same year she graduated Air Force Test Pilot School, Eileen was selected for astronaut training.
She served as a pilot for NASA on several space shuttle missions, including the first mission of the Shuttle/Mir program. She later became the first woman to serve as a commander of a space shuttle mission.
Eileen retired from NASA in 2006, but still holds the title as first and only female shuttle commander. Yet, to this day, she adamantly continues to support women astronauts and encourages them to take away her title as the only female shuttle commander.