Shuttle Loses Its Glass Ceiling With First Female Commander

<i> From Reuters</i>

Air Force Lt. Col. Eileen Collins, the first woman to pilot a U.S. space shuttle, will soon be the first woman to command a shuttle mission, a government source said Wednesday.

Collins, a 41-year-old veteran of two shuttle flights, is expected to be named the first female shuttle commander today by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Collins is one of only 27 women who have flown in the history of the U.S. shuttle program, out of a total of 229 people, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


She is expected to command a Columbia mission in December during which a massive X-ray telescope, a counterpart to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, will be launched.

White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said the announcement of Collins’ appointment would be “good news for all of those who are supportive of our efforts in space and who believe it should be a gender-neutral zone.”

Collins became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle in February 1995 when she flew aboard the first mission of the new joint Russian-American Space Program, according to NASA.

Her second shuttle flight, in May 1997, was the sixth mission to rendezvous and dock with the Russian space station Mir.

A career military pilot, Collins trained at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma. From 1983 to 1985, she was an aircraft commander and instructor pilot at Travis Air Force Base in California. Collins was selected for the astronaut program while attending the elite Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Collins, now based in Houston, is married and has one child.