(WETM) – Elmira native and retired NASA astronaut Eileen Collins is excited to see finally see the SpaceX rocket launch this weekend after years of the country relying on Russian rockets to transport Americans into space.
“This is a very very critical milestone so I’m excited about it. Some part of me feels like it’s long overdue but you know spaceflight is hard you gotta get it right.”
Collins became the first female pilot of a U.S. space shuttle in February 1995 and in July 1999 became the first woman to command a shuttle mission as the Commander for STS-93 Columbia, one of four space shuttle missions she flew on.
Coincidentally, Douglas Hurley, one of the astronauts in the SpaceX launch, is also a native of the Southern Tier. He was born in Endicott and is a native of Apalachin. Additionally, Horseheads High School graduate Sebastian Bauco is an engineer working on SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule propulsion system.
“People around the country join in and, you know, part of the big team that helps out with spaceflight and I think that’s the way it should be,” said Collins. “Everybody should feel like they’re a part of it and, you know, even if you are personally not part of it you can be really proud of our country for finally getting here, making this happen, making spaceflight more routine. More and more people are going to be able to fly in space someday.”
Collins says that NASA is working on building a larger rocket to take astronauts back to the moon and to set up scientific research stations to continue to work on the surface of the moon. She hopes that these launches and the potential return to the moon will set up a trip to Mars during her lifetime.
“Mars is much much further away and sometime, hopefully in my lifetime, we’ll see people from our country walking on Mars.”
Until that time, Collins is excited to see the SpaceX launch scheduled for this weekend and says “it’s about time.”
Collins retired from NASA in 2006 and has received numerous awards, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, French Legion of Honor, NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, Free Spirit Award, and the National Space Trophy.