Eileen Collins was born on November 19, 1956, in Elmira, New York. She was commissioned through the Air Force ROTC program on May 13, 1978, and completed Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance AFB, Oklahoma, in September 1979. After completing survival training and Pilot Instructor Training, Lt Collins served as an instructor pilot with the 25th Flying Training Squadron at Vance from March 1980 to March 1983, when she transitioned to flying C-141 Starlifter transports with the 86th Military Airlift Squadron at Travis AFB, California, serving until September 1985. During this time, Capt Collins flew missions in support of the invasion of Grenada from October to December 1983. Her next assignment was as a graduate student with the Air Force Institute of Technology, where she received a master of science degree in operations research from Stanford University in September 1986. From September 1986 to June 1989, Collins served as an instructor at the Air Force Academy. She then completed Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California, before being selected as a NASA Astronaut Candidate in June 1990. After completing a year of training, Collins was assigned as a Shuttle Pilot Astronaut. She flew on four Space Shuttle missions while serving with NASA: STS-63 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) from February 3-11, 1995; STS-84 aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis (OV-104) from May 15-24, 1997; STS-93 aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia (OV-102) from July 23-27, 1999; and STS-114, also aboard Discovery, from July 26 to August 9, 2005. Col Collins was the first female Space Shuttle Pilot and the first female Space Shuttle Mission Commander. She logged over 6,751 flying hours in 30 different types of aircraft during her Air Force career, and accumulated over 872 hours in space while serving with NASA. She retired from the Air Force on January 1, 2005, and from NASA in May 2006.
Her Distinguished Flying Cross Citation reads:
Colonel Eileen M. Collins distinguished herself by extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as Commander of the Space Shuttle Columbia, from 23 July 1999 to 27 July 1999. During this period, Colonel Collins' outstanding leadership, exceptional technical knowledge, thorough preparation, operational expertise, superior flying skills, and flawless airmanship led directly to the total success of the 1.5 billion dollar Chandra X-Ray Observatory deployment. The professional competence, aerial skill, and devotion to duty displayed by Colonel Collins reflect great credit upon herself and the United States Air Force.