Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Eileen Collins Retires

She is the first woman ever to command a U.S. spacecraft:

NASA astronaut veteran Eileen Collins, the first woman to pilot and command a U.S. spacecraft, is hanging up her orbital wings to pursue more terrestrial exploits, the spaceflight veteran said Monday.

"It has been wonderful," Collins told of her shuttle flight career. "The number one thing for me now is to spend time with my family."

Collins, 49, commanded NASA's first shuttle mission – STS-114 aboard Discovery – since the 2003 Columbia disaster, and is a veteran of four orbiter flights throughout a nearly 16-year astronaut career.

"Eileen Collins is a living, breathing example of the best that our nation has to offer," said NASA chief Michael Griffin, in a statement. "She is, of course, a brave, superb pilot and a magnificent crew commander."

But the experienced shuttle astronaut will not plunge into a post-spaceflight career immediately. Collins said she's reserved the entire upcoming summer to spend with her husband, Pat Youngs, daughter Bridget, 10, and son Luke, 5.

"They've put up with all of my training schedules and then I was gone for five weeks over last summer," Collins said of her family, citing the three weeks of quarantine and two weeks in space during her last mission, not to mention the many national and international appearances that followed her return. "Now that it's been eight or nine months, I'm just going to chill out and finish the remaining work to be done from STS-114, then it's on to something new."

Collins said she hopes her retirement will also allow newer astronauts an opportunity to fly before the shuttle fleet itself retires in 2010. Though a native of Elmira, New York, Collins said she will remain in Houston, Texas – home to NASA's Johnson Space Center – for the time being.

I'm trying very hard not to see this writeup of her leaving as gendered in the predictable way. But I'm failing. Sigh.

Collins has this to say about women and men in her field:

"I can honestly say that in my job day to day, I'm not really aware that there's any difference between male and female crew members," Ms Collins said in an interview last year. "It may be cool to the rest of the world that a woman is the commander of this flight. I think that's great."

Or this, depending on the source:

Collins said she's felt the importance of her shuttle firsts when speaking with young women outside of NASA who are eager to learn how they can become astronauts as well.

"So there has been an impact and I hope that it's been a positive one," Collins said. "I hope that if I'm going to be a role model that I can be a good role model."

At the astronaut level, however, the differences between male and female astronauts stem only from their work capabilities, she added.

"Within the job itself, the male-female commander, the male-female astronaut, it's really the same," Collins said. "What really matters is how the person does their job."

She's a pathbreaker. They are no longer very common among women, partly because many jobs have already had their female pathbreaker. There's still the job of the president and that of the Pope, of course, and they will likely be still there as the unexplored territory by any intrepid great-granddaughter of Collins. So it feels right now. It also feels like some of those paths that were cleared with much work, suffering and sacrifice might close up again.

But that's because I have one of my gloomy days. Right now I'm listening to the news about the flu pandemic. Thou Shalt Not Expect Bush to help you. Because the federal government couldn't even cope with the aftermath of a hurricane, and this just goes to prove that the governments are worthless. Much better to build your own dams and to start your own private respirator machines now. - How did all this get into the post? Blogging is fun.