T-Plus-20 Years for First Woman Shuttle Pilot Eileen Collins

Image: Eileen Collins
NASA astronaut Eileen Collins sits in the pilot's seat during the STS-63 shuttle mission in 2005.NASA file

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February is usually a dark time for space anniversaries, due to the 2003 loss of the shuttle Columbia and its crew, but this particular Tuesday in February brings a bright spot: It's 20 years to the day since Eileen Collins became NASA's first female space shuttle pilot. On Feb. 3, 1995, Collins and the rest of STS-63's crew lifted off into orbit aboard the shuttle Discovery to make the first-ever rendezvous with Russia's Mir space station.

Collins would go on to become the first woman to command a space shuttle mission in 1999, and the first shuttle commander to fly in space after the Columbia tragedy (aboard Discovery in 2005). She retired from NASA a year after that flight, but remains active in the aerospace business as a consultant and a public speaker. In a recently released Makers video, the 58-year-old space pioneer said that she has had spaceflight on her mind since fourth grade. "I never told anyone I wanted to be an astronaut," she recalled, "because I didn't want someone to tell me, 'You can't do that.'"



— Alan Boyle