23 July 1999: at 12:31 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (16:31:00 UTC), the Space Shuttle Columbia (OV-102) lifted off on its 26th mission, STS-93, to place the Chandra X-ray Observatory in orbit. The total mission duration was 4 days, 22 hours, 49 minutes, 37 seconds.
In command was Colonel Eileen Marie Collins, United States Air Force, on her third shuttle flight. This was the first time that a space shuttle mission had been commanded by a woman.
Colonel Collins had previously served as pilot aboard Discovery STS-63 and Atlantis STS-84. She would later command Discovery (STS-114), the “Return To Flight” mission following the loss of Columbia. She logged 38 days, 10 hours of space flight. Eileen Collins retired in 2006.
24 April 1943: The first class of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, Class 43-1, graduated from the four-month flight training program and earned their wings as U.S. Army pilots. The class entered with 38 trainees and 24 graduated. Each woman had a civil pilot’s license and at least 200 hours of flight time. Over 25,000 women applied and approximately 1,900 were accepted. By the end of the war, 1,074 had graduated.
The Women Airforce Service Pilots were civilian employees of the United States Department of War. Although the WASPs ¹ received the same primary, basic and advanced flight training as their U.S. Army Air Force male counterparts, they were not military personnel. Following graduation from their flight training, some pilots went on to specialized training in heavy bombers or fighters.
The WASPs were not combat pilots. They tested newly-manufactured aircraft for acceptance by the military, delivered these airplanes from factories to Air Corps bases around the country, ferried aircraft across oceans, and flew transport missions.
All of these women provided a great service to their country during a time of war, but even more so to the generations of women who would follow their path.
¹ The WASPs were a separate organization from the WAFS, the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron.