Thursday, July 13, 2017

Introducing an Astronaut

Introducing an astronaut for most of us is a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity, and I wanted to do it well.  So I researched Eileen Collins and wrote her an introduction that her husband proofed for me the morning of the event. I'm happy to report it was a success!

Colonel Eileen Collins was the first female pilot and commander of a U.S. Space Shuttle (Space Transportation System) and was in 1990, only the second female to become a U.S. astronaut.

Eileen was in Las Vegas to do a Keynote Presentation, "Breaking Barriers to Become a Successful Pioneer in your Field," as part of the National Pawnbrokers Association's annual event.

Eileen Collins and I , Mirage Hotel,Las Vegas 7/11/17

Eileen piloted the Columbia in 1995 and commanded the Discovery Space Shuttle in 2005. So while raising her children she was also piloting space that's a REAL life Wonder Woman! She's been married for 30 years to her husband Pat Youngs, (an International Airline Pilot), and is the mother of two children.

I can write about how many missions Colonel Collins commanded or how many awards and commendations she's received but I'd rather talk about her, the person.

Eileen Collins, first female Space Shuttle Pilot

It's hard for any mother to leave her family and travel for work, but it takes an especially brave one to leave her husband and children on planet Earth and head into space, not once but four times, (logging a total of 38 days in space).

Colonel Collins last two missions were her most well known.  Her team delivered the Chandra X-Ray Telescope to space in 1999. The last mission she commanded was her crew's return to space on Discovery in 2005, (this was only two years after the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident that took the lives of the seven astronauts on board). During the 2005 mission she piloted an unprecedented 360 degree pitch maneuver so the International Space Station could identify any damage to the shuttle Discovery after it's launch into space. In other words she flipped the Space Shuttle!

Eileen Collins retired from her position as a NASA astronaut in 2006.

Watching Eileen speak and answer questions from the audience it was clear to me that her favorite subject to talk about is space flight and the future of humans in space. I asked her what she missed most about being an astronaut and she said seeing the planet Earth from space, the camaraderie of the crew, and the weightlessness of zero gravity. The only thing she doesn't miss is that she had to be away from her family, and that's the only thing she could think of, she said.  Eileen told me before her presentation that she hoped nobody would ask her about aliens during the Q & A because that is her least favorite subject to be questioned about.

When asked about what it feels like to launch into space Eileen said, "Imagine seat belting yourself into your car, turning it back on it's wheels at a 90 degree angle and applying 600 lbs of pressure," that's what it feels like to launch into space!

Eileen Collins was not born into a family of privilege, in fact the opposite. She spent her first two years in community college before graduating with a B.A. from Syracuse University in 1978 and later the Air Force Academy. To me that's one of the most important pieces of her history, that she started in community college as her route to becoming an astronaut. We need more examples like her to encourage others that the path to success can be non traditional.

The NASA space shuttle program born in 1972, ended in 2011.

Video Link:

Eileen Collins Final Mission: Space Shuttle Discovery Launch & Landing 2005

Special thanks to Eileen Collins, Sheree Wilson, Jaki Baskow, Dana Meinecke and Robbie Ellis.

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