Eileen Collins believes her community college experience helped her become the
world’s first woman to pilot and command an American spacecraft. “Thanks to
New York’s Corning Community College, I was able to take a ton of classes at a
reasonable tuition, live at home, and work enough to pay for school and save up
for flying lessons,” she says.
Later, she earned multiple
master’s degrees, including
one from Stanford Univer-
sity, but says community
college was the perfect place
to start. “The professors were
and really available for the
students,” she says. “If I did it
all over, I wouldn’t change a
thing. I’d go back to Corning
and earn the same degree.”
After Corning, Collins went
on for her bachelor’s degree
and entered the Air Force
Undergraduate Pilot Training
Program in 1978, the same
year NASA opened the shuttle
program to women.
Collins flew her first
shuttle mission, STS-63
Discovery, in February 1995,
becoming the first woman to
pilot a space shuttle. She also
piloted her second shuttle
mission, STS-84 Atlantis, in May 1997. In July 1999, she became the first woman
to command a shuttle mission aboard STS-93 Columbia.
In July 2005, Collins commanded Space Shuttle Discovery’s historic “Return
to Flight” mission—NASA’s first manned flight following the February 2003
loss of the Shuttle Columbia. A year later, she retired from NASA so she could
spend more time with her children.
Since then, Collins has become a popular public speaker, sharing her inspirational tales as a test pilot, astronaut, and space flight commander.