Eileen Collins is a retired American astronaut and a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel. She was born Eileen Marie Collins on November 19, 1956 in Elmira, New York. She was born to Irish immigrants and had three siblings, and she has been intrigued by pilots and astronauts since her childhood. In 1974, she graduated from Elmira Free Academy and went on to earn her Associate’s degree in Mathematics and Science at a community college. She then graduated from Syracuse University with her Bachelor’s degree in 1978 and earned her Master’s degree in Operations Research from Stanford University in 1986.A year later, Collins married pilot Pat Youngs and together they have two children. In 1989 she earned her second Master’s degree, this one in Space Systems Management from Webster University.
Collins attended the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School and graduated with class 89B. She is a veteran of four space flights. Her first flight to space was in 1995 when she piloted space shuttle Discovery aboard STS-63 to rendezvous with the Russian space station Mir. That flight made her the first female Shuttle Pilot, and she received the Harmon Trophy. She was also the pilot for STS-84 in 1997, and two years later Collins became the first female commander of a U.S. Spacecraft with Shuttle mission STS-93, which launched in July and deployed the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Collins’ final mission to space was aboard STS-114, NASA’s “return to flight” mission. The flight launched on July 26, 2005 and docked with the International Space Station. She became the first astronaut to fly the space shuttle through a complete 360-degree pitch maneuver in order to allow the crew on the ISS to take photographs of the shuttle to assess damages.
On May 1, 2006, Collins retired from NASA to spend more time with her family and pursue other interests. Since her retirement, she has appeared on CNN as a Space Shuttle analyst covering Shuttle launches and landings.
Collins has received numerous awards for her career work, including the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and the Meritorious Service Medal. She also has an observatory and an airport entrance named in her honor. In 2007, the Space Foundation awarded Collins the Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award.