First Female Space Shuttle Commander

March 12, 2012 by staff 

First Female Space Shuttle Commander, Though dozens of women have flown on the space shuttle during the course of its 30-year career, only two have commanded the spaceship.

Those two are NASA astronauts Eileen Collins, who led the STS-93 flight of the shuttle Columbia in July 1999, and Pamela Melroy, who commanded the STS-120 mission of Discovery in November 2007.

Because becoming a shuttle commander requires previous spaceflight experience, as well as at least 1,000 hours experience piloting a jet aircraft, fewer women have achieved this position than those that have flown as mission specialists.

With NASA planning to retire the space shuttles after the final flight of Atlantis July 8, no further chances will arise for women to command the reusable space planes. However, both Collins and Melroy expressed the hope that more women could become commanders of future American spacecraft as NASA embarks on a new mission to explore asteroids, the moon and Mars.

Collins was born in 1956 in Elmira, N.Y. She has masters degrees in operations research and space systems management, and is a retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force. She was selected as an astronaut candidate in January 1990
first spaceflight, the STS-63 mission of Discovery in February 1995, Collins became the first female space shuttle pilot, a second-in-command position behind the commander. After another flight, the May 1997 voyage of Atlantis, Collins became the first female space shuttle commander on the STS-93 mission of the shuttle Columbia.

“I was just doing my job — a job I loved,” Collins told “I was very mission-oriented, I always focused on the safety of the mission, the accuracy, what is our mission statement, are we fulfilling that. I never really thought that much about, OK, I’m a woman and this is the first time a woman has flown as a pilot, the first time a woman has flown as commander.”

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