Historic Launch for Military Women of NASA

On 19/20 July 1999, thirty years after the moon landing, the space shuttle Columbia will be commanded by a woman - Colonel Eileen M. Collins, USAF. Another Air Force woman will be on board as Mission Specialist - Lt Col Catherine G. Coleman. The STS-93 mission will carry the Chandra X-ray Observatory into low Earth orbit initiating its planned five-year astronomy mission. Chandra is the third of NASA's great observatories, following the Hubble Space Telescope and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. Chandra will provide scientists an order-of-magnitude improvement over current capabilities at X-ray wavelengths. Observations of X-ray emissions from energetic galaxies and clusters, as well as black holes, promise to greatly expand current understanding of the origin and evolution of our universe.


The astronauts are: Michel Tognini, mission specialist representing France's Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES); Catherine G. Coleman, mission specialist; Jeffrey S. Ashby, pilot; Eileen M.Collins, mission commander; and Steven A. Hawley, mission specialist. They will spend four days in space and are scheduled to return on July 25th.

Col Collins

No stranger to the skies and outer space, Colonel Eileen Collins graduated in 1979 from Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance AFB, Oklahoma, where she was a T-38 instructor pilot until 1982. From 1983 to 1985, she was a C-141 aircraft commander and instructor pilot at Travis AFB, California. She spent the following year as a student with the Air Force Institute of Technology. From 1986 to 1989, she was assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, where she was an assistant professor in mathematics and a T-41 instructor pilot. She was selected for the astronaut program while attending the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California, from which she graduated in 1990.

She has logged over 5,000 hours in 30 different types of aircraft.


Selected by NASA in January 1990, Collins became an astronaut in July 1991. Initially assigned to Orbiter engineering support, she has also served on the astronaut support team responsible for Orbiter prelaunch checkout, final launch configuration, crew ingress/egress, landing/recovery, worked in Mission Control as a spacecraft communicator (CAPCOM) for numerous shuttle missions, and served as the Astronaut Office Spacecraft Systems Branch Chief. A veteran of two space flights, Collins has logged over 419 hours in space. She served as pilot on STS-63 (February 2-11, 1995) and STS-84 (May 15-24, 1997).

Collins is the first woman assigned as a Space Shuttle Commander. She will command the crew of STS-93 on a 5-day mission aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. STS-93 will highlight the deployment of the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility Imaging System (AXAF). Designed to conduct comprehensive studies of the universe, AXAF will enable scientists to study exotic phenomena such as exploding stars, quasars, and black holes. STS-93 is scheduled for launch in July 1999.

SPACE FLIGHT EXPERIENCE: STS-63 (February 2-11, 1995) was the first flight of the new joint Russian-American Space Program. Mission highlights included the rendezvous with the Russian Space Station Mir, operation of Spacehab, the deployment and retrieval of an astronomy satellite, and a space walk. Collins' first mission was accomplished in 129 orbits, traveling over 2.9 million miles in 198 hours, 29 minutes. She was the first woman pilot of a Space Shuttle.

STS-84 (May 15-24, 1997) was NASA's sixth Shuttle mission to rendezvous and dock with the Russian Space Station Mir. During the flight, the crew conducted a number of secondary experiments and transferred nearly 4 tons of supplies and experiment equipment between Atlantis and the Mir station. In completing this 9-day mission, she traveled 3.8 million miles in 145 orbits of the Earth logging a total of 221 hours and 20 minutes in space.

LtCol Coleman

Lt Colonel Catherine Coleman was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Air Force in 1983 and began graduate work at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focused on polymer synthesis using the olefin metathesis reaction, and polymer surface modification. In 1988, Coleman entered active duty and was assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. As a research chemist at the Materials Directorate of the Wright Laboratory, she synthesized model compounds to investigate the use of organic polymers for third-order nonlinear optical applications such as advanced computers and data storage. Coleman also acted as a surface analysis consultant for the Long Duration Exposure Facility (launched from STS 41-C in 1984 and retrieved during STS-32 in 1990). In addition to assigned duties, Coleman was a volunteer test subject for the centrifuge program at the Crew Systems Directorate of the Armstrong Aeromedical Laboratory. She set several endurance and tolerance records during her participation in physiological and new equipment studies.


Coleman was selected by NASA in March 1992 and reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1992. Initially assigned to the Astronaut Office Mission Support Branch and detailed to flight software verification in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory, Coleman subsequently served as the special assistant to the Center Director, Johnson Space Center. She served in the Astronaut Office Payloads and Habitability Branch, working with experiment designers to insure that payloads can be operated successfully in the microgravity environment of low earth orbit. As the lead astronaut for long term space flight habitability issues, she led the effort to label the Russian segments of the International Space Station in English and also tracked issues such as accoustics and living accommodations aboard the station. She was a mission specialist on STS-73, logging over 381 hours in space, and also served as a backup mission specialist for an injured crew member on STS-83. Coleman is presently assigned to STS-93, a 5-day mission aboard Space Shuttle Columbia to deploy the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Designed to conduct comprehensive studies of the universe, the telescope will enable scientists to study exotic phenomena such as exploding stars, quasars, and black holes. Coleman is the lead mission specialist for the Chandra deploy on STS-93, which is scheduled for launch in July 1999.


STS-73 Columbia (October 20 to November 5, 1995), was the second United States Microgravity Laboratory mission. The mission focused on materials science, biotechnology, combustion science, the physics of fluids, and numerous scientific experiments housed in the pressurized Spacelab module. In completing her first space flight, Coleman orbited the Earth 256 times, traveled over 6 million miles, and logged a total of 15 days, 21 hours, 52 minutes and 21 seconds in space.

For a NASA Timeline on women astronauts: Women in Space

Source of the photographs and data used here: NASA

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