Today’s launch of the space shuttle Discovery marks a return to space for shuttle commander Eileen Collins, as well as for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which has not launched a shuttle mission since the Columbia disaster in 2003. According to Women’s eNews, Collins became the first female shuttle pilot at NASA in 1995, and she became the first woman to command a shuttle in 1999, aboard the Columbia. Today, she leads a team of seven astronauts who will test new safety equipment, deliver supplies to the International Space Station, and try new flight maneuvers.
Collins sees this mission as a way of honoring the seven who died in the Columbia accident, telling Reuters that “We are in a recovery stage and we’re … looking forward to how we can, with this tragedy, make the space program better – not just the shuttle program, but the space program and the future of our country in space.” Currently, women make up one-fifth of NASA’s astronauts, and 36 women have gone into space with NASA programs. Women’s eNews reports that surviving members of the “Mercury 13,” a group of women astronauts who were denied permission to go on space missions in 1962, will attend the launch at Collins’s request.
UPDATE The shuttle liftoff was canceled because of a problem with the fuel sensor. A new launch date has not yet been announced.