First Woman To Pilot Space Shuttle, Command Shuttle Mission Reflects On Time In Oklahoma

Colonel Eileen Collins was the first female pilot and first female commander of a space shuttle.

Tuesday, December 12th 2023, 10:41 am

Women leading the way in aviation are honored every year during Oklahoma Women in Aviation and Aerospace Day.

This year the Oklahoma Department of Aerospace and Aeronautics in community partnership with the 137th Special Operations Wing, as well as other organizations commemorated the state’s seventh annual Oklahoma Women in Aviation & Aerospace Day at the 137th Special Operations Wing Oklahoma National Guard base.

We have a number of really inspiring people who have come through Oklahoma, Colonel Eileen Collins is one of them.

She was the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle and the first to command a Space Shuttle mission.

She now has a new book and mission: to inspire the next generation.

"I had my start in Enid, Oklahoma, back in 1978. I was in the first class of women to go through pilot training up at Vance and there were four of us in class of 7,908 I have some very good memories," said Col. Collins.

Her time in the military actually changed the course of history.

"We had to graduate obviously so we could get our wings but the other thing that was going on was the test program for women in pilot training so if we failed it would close the door for future women, so we weren't just doing it for ourselves we were doing it for the generations of women to follow it," said Col. Collins.

That mission was a success.

"They ran this test program for about three years and they realized hey the women are doing great they are doing just like the men, we are going to stop the test program and we are going to start sending women through pilot training," said Col. Collins.

She went on to become the first female pilot and first female commander of a space shuttle.

"Looking down at earth from space I think is the thing I still carry with me today. How beautiful the earth is from a distance," said Col. Collins.

With a perspective that is out of this world, she has some advice for us all.

"I like to use the quote by Albert Einstein, 'imagination is more important than knowledge,'" Col. Collins said.

She is encouraging us all to put down our phones and pick up a book.

"You can get out of the stresses of your every day life by picking up a book and putting your self in someone else's position and seeing how they manage the stresses in their life," said Col. Collins.

So that whatever our mission is, we can consider it accomplished.

"I think that is one of the things that can really make a person successful. Just know what your mission is and stay focused on that mission and try not to take the weight of the world on your shoulders," said Col. Collins.

If you want to learn more about Eileen you can read her book "Through the Glass Ceiling to the Stars: The Story of the First American Woman to Command a Space Mission."

Attendees also heard a keynote address from Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney. According to the Oklahoma Defense Industry Association she is most widely recognized for her service on September 11, Penney was part of the pioneering first wave of women who entered fighters directly from pilot training. Lucky was the first and only woman in the 121st Fighter Squadron during her time flying the F-16, conducting combat air patrols over Washington DC and deploying to combat twice. Penney is a defense policy expert at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in Arlington, Virginia.


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