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Eileen Collins, Press Conference

First Women Space Shuttle Commander completes dream


HOUSTON, TX –July 27, 1999–Aviation Archives today acknowledges ‘one giant leap for women’ as Astronaut Eileen Collins pioneered yet another new frontier focusing attention on women’s achievements. Col. Collins, gained worldwide recognition, as NASA’s first female shuttle commander. On Tuesday, Collins successfully brought Columbia safely back home to earth and made good on her statement given at the White House official announcement of her selection as commander. She said, “It is my hope that all children–boys and girls, will see this mission and be inspired to reach for their dreams, ‘because dreams do come true.'”

The successful completion of mission STS-93 brought Collins dreams to reality. It was marked by a perfect yet rare night landing at 11:20 p.m. (EST) at a Kennedy Space Center airstrip near Cape Canaveral, Florida. The touch down concluded a crucial five-day mission for Commander Eileen Collins and her crew. Collins’ mission was two-fold. Launching the world’s largest x-ray telescope into space and making her mark in the history books.

With this mission, the 42-year-old Air Force colonel notched several historic firsts as she became the first woman to command a U.S. space flight and the first woman ever to land a spacecraft. The latter record came late Tuesday, when Collins smoothly put Columbia down at Kennedy Space Center for just the 12th night landing in 95 shuttle missions.

The mission was not without it’s challenges. Mission STS-93 was delayed twice before finally lifting off at 12:31 a.m., Friday, July 23, 1999. NASA called Columbia’s flight flawless. That’s in sharp contrast to its launch, scrubbed twice, then marred by technical glitches. NASA says it’s still trying to figure out why there was an electrical short circuit during lift-off. The shuttle’s engines shut down about seven miles short of the intended orbit on launch day. NASA wants to find out if there was a leak, and if not, why did the main engine shut down earlier than it was supposed to.

Despite the early drama, Collins and her crew completed their main mission deploying the $1.5 billion Chandra X-Ray Observatory into orbit. NASA said all was well with the giant telescope and it should start sending data in two or three weeks. Since departing the shuttle’s cargo bay on Friday, Chandra’s own rocket engines and maneuvering jets moved it into a radically different orbit. While the satellite took just 90 minutes to orbit the Earth while riding in Columbia, it now takes 25 hours to make it once around.

At the orbit’s highest point, Chandra is about one-third of the way between the Earth and Moon where it can observe some of the universe’s darkest regions, such as black holes and interstellar “dark matter,” without interference from Earth.

Collins and crew completed a near flawless mission before being welcomed back from space Wednesday and hailed by Vice President Al Gore as a bigger hero than Amelia Earhart

For all her accomplishments, Eileen Collins is very humble. Collins said nothing of her achievements at a welcome-home ceremony Wednesday, using her time at the microphone to thank ground support crews and plug the space program.

“There’s really … a lot of interest out there and we need to tap into it,” she said.

Vice President Al Gore was more unrestrained, calling the 42-year-old Air Force colonel a bigger herothan pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart.

.“She has not only equaled but surpassed Amelia Earhart in the history of flight,” Gore told the crowd, which was filled with a larger-than-usual percentage of women and girls.

In February 1995, Collins became the first woman to pilot a shuttle on what was her first shuttle mission. She took with her a scarf worn by Earhart, an early aviation pioneer who vanished over the Pacific in 1937 while attempting to become the first woman to fly around the globe.

As Collins’ 3-year-old daughter Bridget, clad in a jumper bearing the Stars and Stripes, sat in front row of the audience, her mother grinned graciously as Gore congratulated her.

“Today, Bridget, your mommy stands here as a hero to all girls and boys, women and men,

Americans and people all over the world,” Gore lauded.

After the brief ceremony, Collins immediately stepped off the stage to hug her daughter before signAutographs.

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