Eileen Collins And Chandra Observatory

A hydrogen fuel leak, which could have caused an engine shutdown, costly delays
on the launching pad, and a year of technical difficulties didn’t stop the
successful launch of the $1.5 billion Chandra X-Ray Observatory on the Space

Shuttle Columbia. Nor did it stop Eileen Collins, 42, from becoming NASA’s
first female commander ever after 95 missions. Collins, who has logged over

5,000 hours of airtime in thirty types of aircraft and 537 of those hours in
space, served as pilot in her last two missions in 1995 and 1997, and felt well
prepared to handle anything. So, when a short circuit occurred, as Commander,

Collins braced for every possible emergency, even landing in Africa, something
that has never before been attempted. The circuit cut the main computers for two
of the main engines, but backups quickly responded. In 1995 Collins was a member
of operation Spacehab, the first flight of the Russian-American Space Program,
which included the deployment and retrieval of a satellite and a space walk. The

3.8 million mile 1997 mission on Atlantis was NASA’s sixth rendezvous and
docking with the Mir Space Station. Her most recent mission this July on

Columbia, deployed the heaviest payload ever launched on the shuttle, the

Chandra X-Ray Observatory. The observatory will gather information from X-rays
of gaseous clouds so vast that it takes light more than five million years to go
from one side to the other. Although nothing can escape the gravity of a black
hole, the observatory is able to study particles up the last millisecond before
they are sucked inside. In addition, it can travel to heights over 200 times
those of the Hubble Space Telescope, or about one-third the distance to the

Moon. Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, called both to congratulate

Collins, and to warn her about the "hoopla" and media hype that surrounds
breakthroughs in the gender barrier. Ride recalled responding to a reporter’s
inquiry about whether she would wear a bra in space, by saying "There is no
sag in zero-g." However, Mir record holder for longest time in space, Shannon

Lucid, also cautioned Collins. And while Collins insists she has taken their
advice, less than a month after her flight she had already given 47 television
interviews and requests are still coming. She told an Associated Press reporter
that she has tried to smile and put a different spin on the same questions, but
there is not much getting around Columbia’s leak of over 2,500 pounds of
hydrogen during the 8 ˝-minute climb to orbit, which caused the engines to shut
down one second early leaving the shuttle seven miles short of its orbital mark.

"Hey we pulled it off. We did it," she kept telling herself and her crew.

Although Collins is back to work having missed a vacation due to flight delays,
writing reports until 2:30 a.m. and waking again at 5:45 a.m., she is eager to
vacation with her husband and 3 ˝-year-old daughter Bridget, preferably to a
beach.