updated 8/3/2005 7:46:35 PM ET 2005-08-03T23:46:35

If James Collins has little faith of late in his 79-year-old heart — he’s had 11 surgeries — he’s a true optimist when he contemplates the space shuttle Discovery’s risky return to Earth.

His daughter Eileen, after all, is at the controls.

“She’s up there now and God will take care of them and she’s going to be back,” Collins said Wednesday afternoon at his modest apartment before leaving for yet another doctor’s appointment.

“A lot of things could happen, we all know that,” said the retired postal worker. “The pessimist always looks and says, ’Well, this can happen, that can happen.’ I don’t look at life that way. If I did, I wouldn’t be where I am right now and she wouldn’t be where she is right now. Eileen has always been very positive about things.”

Eileen Collins is commander of the first space shuttle mission since the Columbia disaster two years ago. On Wednesday, one of her crewmates pulled two potentially dangerous strips of protruding filler from Discovery’s tile belly in an unprecedented emergency repair that NASA said was needed to prevent overheating when the shuttle returns to Earth.

Last week, NASA was worried about a large chunk of insulating foam that broke off the shuttle’s fuel tank at liftoff. It was the same problem that caused the Columbia disaster by knocking a hole in that spacecraft’s wing, causing it to break apart on its return home. All seven astronauts died.

A careful inspection of Discovery revealed no serious damage, but future shuttle flights are suspended until the foam problem can be fixed. Discovery is set to land Monday.

Tracking the mission on TV
The elder Collins watched his daughter’s launch on July 26 and returned home this week. He said he’s been tracking the shuttle mission on TV. Unlike the astronaut’s mother, Rose Marie, who lives in Elmira where the couple raised two sons and two daughters, James Collins doesn’t have the “NASA channel.”

And, he said, he doesn’t dwell on the potential risks.

“Absolutely not. I don’t see any reason why I should. Have you ever heard of the ‘serenity prayer?’ We say that every day — ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.’ This is very helpful.

“We’re all Christians — not necessarily fanatics, don’t get me wrong — but that’s what holds everything together and Eileen is certainly in that,” he added. “That’s the way the four children were raised. It makes life a lot easier.”

Thinking about home
Nonetheless, while “I’m not sitting here worrying about anything,” Collins admitted he’ll be more relaxed when she gets home.

“Oh, absolutely, it will be good to get her back on Earth,” he said. “She wants to get back — she’s got two children, a little girl and a boy, they live in Houston.”

Bridget, 9, and Luke, 4, have been shielded from TV coverage of the shuttle, Collins said, noting his daughter “doesn’t want to get the children involved in this at all.”

But their mother’s approach is “to explain everything to them, then there’s no mystery involved. Tell them the truth of what’s going on without magnifying anything, and they understand.”

Collins said he has “all the confidence in the world in her and the NASA crew. They’re all very competent people. Believe me, astronauts are top-shelf people.”

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