Eileen Marie Collins was born on November 19, 1956, in Elmira, New York. Her parents encouraged her dream of becoming a pilot and she earned her license while in college. She graduated from Elmira Free Academy in 1974 and received an Associate of Science degree in Mathematics from Corning Community College in 1976. She then attended Syracuse University, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics and Economics in 1978. She also received 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.
In 1979, Collins graduated from Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance Air Force Base (AFB), Oklahoma. She then served as a T-38 instructor pilot at Vance until 1982. From 1983 to 1985, she was a C-141 aircraft commander and instructor pilot at Travis AFB, California, and took part in the invasion of Grenada in October 1983. In 1986, Collins attended the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. From 1986 to 1989, she was assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as an assistant professor in mathematics and a T-41 instructor pilot. She graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California in 1990. Colonel Collins has logged over 5,000 hours in 30 different types of aircraft.
Selected by NASA in January 1990, Eileen Collins became an astronaut in July 1991. Initially assigned to Orbiter engineering support, she has also served on the astronaut support team responsible for Orbiter pre-launch checkout, final launch configuration, crew ingress/egress, landing/recovery; worked in Mission Control as a spacecraft communicator (CAPCOM); and served variously as the Astronaut Office Spacecraft Systems Branch Chief, the Chief Information Officer, the Shuttle Branch Chief, and the Astronaut Safety Branch Chief.
A veteran of four space shuttle missions (all of which launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida) Colonel Collins has logged over 537 hours in space. She first entered space on STS-63 Discovery from February 3 to 11, 1995, on the first flight of the new joint Russian-American Space Program. Mission highlights included the rendezvous with the Russian Space Station Mir, the operation of Spacelab, the deployment and retrieval of an astronomy satellite, and a spacewalk. On this mission, Eileen Collins became the first woman to pilot a Space Shuttle.
Her next space flight was as Pilot for STS-84 Atlantis, from May 15 to 25, 1997. This was NASA’s sixth Shuttle mission to rendezvous and dock with Mir. During the flight, the crew conducted a number of secondary experiments and transferred nearly four tons of supplies and experiment equipment between Atlantis and the Russian space station.
Eileen Collins returned to space as Commander of STS-93 Columbia from July 23 to 27, 1999, the first woman to command a space shuttle mission. This flight was highlighted by the deployment of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Designed to conduct comprehensive studies of the universe, the telescope has enabled scientists to study exotic phenomena such as exploding stars, quasars, and black holes. As with her first two shuttle missions, STS-93 landed at KSC.
Colonel Collins also commanded STS-114 Discovery, from July 26 to August 9, 2005. This was the “Return to Flight” mission (after the Columbia disaster of February 1, 2003). Once in orbit, the shuttle docked with the International Space Station and the crew tested and evaluated new procedures for flight safety and shuttle inspection and repair techniques. After a two-week, 5,800,000-mile journey, the orbiter and its crew of seven astronauts landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Colonel Eileen Collins has received many awards, including the Defense Superior Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for service in Grenada (Operation Urgent Fury), French Legion of Honor, NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, NASA Space Flight Medals, Free Spirit Award, and the National Space Trophy. She retired from the Air Force on May 1, 2006, to pursue private interests.