Collins’s parents were immigrants from Ireland. As a child, Eileen Collins (1956 – ) expressed an interest both in space flight and in being a pilot. After graduating from Elmira Free Academy in 1974, Collins attended Corning Community College where she earned an associate degree in mathematics/science in 1976. She graduated from Syracuse University in 1978 and then earned a Master of Science degree in operations research from Stanford University in 1986 and a Master of Arts degree in space systems management from Webster University in 1989. Collins attended the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School and graduated with class 89B. She became a military instructor and test pilot.
Collins first flew the Space Shuttle as pilot in 1995 aboard STS-63, which involved a rendezvous between Discovery and the Russian space station Mir. In recognition of her achievement as the first female Shuttle Pilot, she received the Harmon Trophy. She was also the pilot for STS-84 in 1997. Collins was also the first female commander of a U.S. Spacecraft with Shuttle mission STS-93, launched in July 1999, which deployed the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.
Collins commanded STS-114, NASA’s “return to flight” mission to test safety improvements and resupply the International Space Station (ISS). The flight was launched on July 26, 2005, and returned on August 9, 2005. During STS-114, Collins became the first astronaut to fly the space shuttle through a complete 360-degree pitch maneuver. This was necessary so astronauts aboard the ISS could take photographs of the shuttle’s belly, to ensure there was no threat from debris-related damage to the shuttle upon reentry.
On May 1 of 2006, Collins announced that she would leave. Col. Collins has logged 38 days 8 hours and 10 minutes in outer space. Since her retirement from NASA, she has been seen as a Space Shuttle analyst generally covering Shuttle launches and landings for CNN.