The Lady Speaks

Eileen Collins leaving NASA

Yesterday, it was announced that Eileen Collins would be leaving NASA after 16 years, in order to spend more time with family.

From the Associated Press:

Having flown in space four times, Collins said, “We have many astronauts in this office who haven’t even flown one flight. It’s time for me to step aside and give the young guys a chance to fly.”

The 49-year-old astronaut said Monday that she will leave the U.S. space agency in the next week or two and plans to devote several months to her family.


Collins had considered leaving the space agency last year after she fearlessly led NASA’s harrowing first flight in space since the Columbia disaster in 2003. But the death of her mother last December, followed by her father’s sudden death in a traffic accident earlier this year, forced her to push back her departure date so she could finish tying up loose ends from last summer’s mission.

“I had been gone from my family and I sort of want to make it up to them this summer and spend a good summer with my family,” said Collins, the mother of a 10-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. Her husband is former Air Force pilot Pat Youngs, who flies for Delta Air Lines.

Col. Eileen Collins (USAF-Ret.) is a major source of inspiration for girls and young women throughout the US, and a huge source of hometown pride in Elmira NY – just 20 miles west of me.

Her celebrity as the first female shuttle pilot in 1995 (on Discovery) followed by becoming the first female shuttle commander in 1999 (Columbia) sparked many young girls’ interest in science and mathematics. And in other fields they might never have considered because ‘girls can’t do that.’

That sentence is one of those I absolutely detest. It’s right up there with ‘We need to talk.” and “Mom, don’t get mad.”

In 1976, when I was in first grade, I remember telling a teacher I wanted to be a race-car driver when I grew up. Her words are still imprinted on my soul: “Girls can’t do that! Wouldn’t you rather have a fun job, like secretary and then get married?”

I was crushed, completely heartbroken. I didn’t want to be no dumb secretary (no offense!) I wanted to drive fast like the guys my dad watched on TV! Six years old, and my dreams were shattered.

Even though, the very next year, Janet Guthrie became the first woman to race in the Daytona 500, that experience stayed with me, and when Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, I felt like screaming with joy.

Women have done many incredible things in the 30 years since I was told I couldn’t be a race-car driver. Many of them previously thought to be ‘man-only’ territory. From the first woman astronaut to the first female commander of the space shuttle to the first female National Security Advisor. From the first female racer in the Daytona 500 to the formation of the Association of Women Industrial Designers. And much, much more! Politics, industry, film – women are everywhere!

Women are still under-represented in many areas, such as racing and space, but they are there. The female pioneers in every field fought against tremendous odds and worked – not two – but three and four times harder than any man to achieve the same goals, fighting discrimination and harassment every step of the way to gain the same respect.

I’ve raised my children, and especially my daughter, to believe that anything they dream is possible if they are willing to work hard enough for it. Dreams don’t care if you’re male or female, black or white or brown, rich or poor. What matters is the effort you put into it.


May 2, 2006 - Posted by | Children, Inspiration, Women

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