July 27, 2005

She’s out of this world.

Posted in Eileen Collins, Space Shuttle at 9:54 am by billdawson

[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]

Eileen Collins is commanding a Shuttle flight for the second time.  This time she even gets to dock the orbiter with the International Space Station.  I think she’s pretty cool.

Last night before bed she said:

“And finally,” she concluded, “we reflect on the last shuttle mission, the great ship Columbia and her crew — Rick, Willie, Mike, K.C., Dave, Laurel and Elan. We miss them, and we are continuing their mission. God bless them tonight, and God bless their families. Good night.”

Here’s are excerpts from her 2004 pre-flight interview:

I have always loved flying, ever since I was a small child and growing up in Elmira, N.Y. I’d watch the gliders fly overhead. Elmira, with its Harris Hill, is the “soaring capital” of America, and I was very fortunate to have grown up in that area. I went to summer camp near the Soaring Museum and the glider field. My family never had the money to get me flying lessons or even get me a ride in an airplane. I think my desire to fly just continued to build. The way I helped satisfy that as a child was to read books. I learned about flying from every different perspective, civilian flying and military flying; I read about, World War I, World War II, all the way up through the Vietnam War. And, when I got a job at age 16 I started saving money. Eventually I had saved up $1,000 and I took that to my local airport, at age 19, and I asked them to teach me how to fly. Very timid, very shy, you know, there are no other women up there, this was a guy thing but I wanted to do it anyway. And, my flight instructor was a former F-4 pilot from Vietnam, and, he really inspired me. I went on to military flying. It turned out that the year that I started military pilot training for the Air Force, 1978, was the same year that NASA took their first women into the Shuttle program. The six women that were in the first Shuttle class became role models to me. They were Mission Specialists but I knew that I wanted to be a pilot. I knew that this program existed, and that’s when I decided that someday I was going to go on and fly as an astronaut.


In 1986 after the Challenger accident, I was in graduate school. The accident, obviously, was just a terrible tragedy, and as the news was unfolding in the media I found just how interested I was in learning about what happened and learning more about the Shuttle program. But I immediately wanted to apply to the astronaut program after the Challenger accident — I thought they needed help, and I wanted to be there. I wanted to be part of helping the space program move on and do great things … along with the fact that I wanted to fly.


But I have an older daughter, who I really do need to talk to [about the Columbia failure], and I have been talking to her. In fact, to share a little story with you, in December, around Christmastime of 2002, I told her about the Challenger accident. She had just turned seven and she had never heard of the Challenger accident or the crew. So I showed her a picture of the crew, and told her their names and who they were and what they had done, and how they were heroes — and, and they, you know, really loved what they were doing. I told her about the accident and how it happened, and I told her (that problem) has been fixed … and that will never happen again. Then, five weeks later, we had the Columbia accident. I had to start that process over with her. That was difficult, but it’s going to be a long process. Immediately after the accident, I told my daughter, “Mommy’s not going to fly for a long time so I don’t want you to worry. We have lots of time to talk about this, and we’ve got lots of time to figure out what happened and to get things straightened out.” Occasionally I’ll bring up our mission and what we’re doing, but I have made it a mission of mine to help her learn more about what we’re doing in space, because I find that a person will have less fear if they understand what’s going on.

She will come home safely, I’m certain of it.