Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Commander Eileen Collins has spent more than 872 hours in space and logged 6,751 hours in the cockpits of 30 different types of aircraft.  In 1995 she became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle and then in 1999, the first woman to command a space shuttle mission.  Eileen joins us as part of our educational partnership with the Distinguished Flying Cross Society.

Eileen’s father used to take the family to the airport to watch airplanes take off and land. This first inspired her love of flying. “I was afraid to sign up for lessons because I thought they wouldn’t want to teach a woman to fly. But they were great.”  When she was in pilot training at Vance Air Force Base, the first cadre of women selected to be astronauts were training there at the same time.

She says she was completely accepted in the NASA program and credits the female mission specialists who preceded her.  “We were all in it for the mission and to be the best we could be.”

Eileen shares some of the challenges and dangers of space flight. (She says space debris is currently the greatest threat) Eileen was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a 1999 mission on the Columbia shuttle. The 2003 Columbia tragedy hit her particularly hard. She was honored to be selected to command the first “return to flight” mission following the Challenger tragedy.

We spend some time discussing the future of space flight including NASA’s plans to return to the moon in 2024 to start building stations. She strongly believes that the public and private space programs complement each other quite well.

Eileen earned her combat stripes flying a C-141 in the invasion of Grenada.

TAKEAWAY: “We choose to fly despite the risks. Unless we fly these early missions we will never make it safer.”