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New shuttle commander to take 'one big step for women'

Clinton and Collins
Clinton congratulates Collins at a speech Thursday in the Roosevelt Room   
March 5, 1998
Web posted at: 1:31 p.m. EST (1831 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Lt. Col. Eileen Collins, the nation's first female space shuttle pilot, soared to yet another milestone Thursday as President Clinton officially named her the first woman to lead a U.S. space mission.

Collins was promoted to space shuttle flight commander at a White House ceremony Thursday with the president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on hand. It was the first time a woman has been named to the job.

Flanked by members of NASA and representatives of Congress, Mrs. Clinton made the announcement, saying Collins will take "one big step for women and one giant leap for humanity." icon (234K/22 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Watch the announcement
icon 25 min. VXtreme streaming video

"To discover new worlds, we must break down old barriers," said NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, also at the ceremony.

The landmark announcement was at the centerpiece of a week-long effort by the Clinton administration to highlight achievements in science and math. It also coincides with the beginning of National Women's History Month.

The mission that Collins will command (STS-93, scheduled for December 1998 departure) will launch the most advanced X-ray telescope ever flown, allowing scientists to examine some of the astral bodies most distant from Earth.

Sounds from the ceremony

Clinton congratulates Collins
icon 303K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Collins talks about those who inspired her
icon 250K/23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Hillary Rodham Clinton on her personal fascination with space
icon 321K/29 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Goldin: "To discover new worlds, we must break down old barriers ..."
icon 263K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

The New York native, a self-described amateur astronomer, said her hobby gives her a personal interest in the telescope's launch. Ever since her youth, she said, "I have been fascinated by astronomy, and in all kinds of science ... it was only a dream of mine that someday I'd have the opportunity to be part of such an important astronomy mission as this one.

"In my career in the U.S. military and with NASA, I've been given important jobs and responsibilities," Collins said. "I now accept this responsibility with all the determination and the motivation and the diligence that I've had in all the other challenges I've faced."

Collins, a 41-year-old veteran of two shuttle flights, is used to the spotlight: She graduated in 1990 as the Air Force's second female test pilot, and in the same year became the first woman chosen by NASA as a space shuttle pilot.

Dozens of female airplane pilots gathered in Cape Canaveral, Florida, when she rocketed into orbit aboard Discovery on February 3, 1995. The flight was the first of the new joint Russian-American space program.

"I didn't get here alone," Collins said after she was introduced. "There's so many women throughout the century that have gone before me and have taken to the skies" who served as her role models, starting with "the first barnstormers" through "the Mercury women in the 1960s who went through all the tough medical testing to become the first astronauts." icon (312K/27 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

"I wouldn't be here without them today," she said.

Collins aboard Discovery in 1995   

Collins joined NASA in January 1990 and became an astronaut in July 1991. She is one of 27 women out of 229 people who have flown in the history of the space shuttle program, and has logged more than 419 hours in space.

She also has logged 4,700 hours in 30 different types of aircraft.

She and the first lady were to visit Dunbar Senior High School later in the day to talk about the importance of studying math and science. "I hope there will be girls in the audience who look up at her and say, that's what I want to do," Mrs. Clinton said.


Shuttle mission

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