Eileen Collins, RNC Speaker: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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Eileen Collins holds press conference after completing the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test at Kennedy Space Center in 2005. (Getty)

The theme of the third day of the Republican National Convention is “Make America First Again,” and although the speakers include politicians like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, also speaking is retired NASA astronaut Eileen Collins.

Collins will be addressing the RNC crowd on July 20th, the 47th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. The retired astronaut has not commented on Donald Trump very much, but she says she will be going to the convention because it is an opportunity to promote increased NASA funding.

Here is everything you need to know about Eileen Collins.

1. When She Was Young, She Wasn’t Sure Women Could Be Astronauts

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Eileen Collins greets children after an appearance at the American Museum of Natural History in 2005. (Getty)

Collins says that she was interested in flight from when she was in the third grade, but at this young age, it wasn’t clear to her that a woman like her could become an astronaut. In fact, for a while she figured her only option would be to become an astronaut’s wife, Collins told Makers.

She grew up on welfare and food stamps, and she says that she knew one day she’d get herself out of this situation.

“I never told anyone I wanted to be an astronaut because I didn’t want someone to tell me you can’t do that,” she said.

Even when Collins first began to pursue a career as a pilot, she expected to be rejected because she was a woman, but she was surprised to be given a chance.

Collins also says that she gained a lot of her love of flight from reading.

“The space program was really just in its infancy back then…I got most of my information through reading, and also through my home town in my experience at summer camp,” she said. “I never had the opportunities to fly gliders myself but we have a soaring field in Elmira, New York, that really inspired me when I was a young child that someday I was going to have an opportunity to do that.”

2. She Earned a Master of Science Degree From Stanford

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Eileen Collins speaks during a homecoming celebration for the Discovery crew in 2005. (Getty)

In her pursuit of a career as an astronaut, Collins earned several degrees from prestigious universities.

She first earned an associate’s degree in science from Corning Community College in 1976, and in 1978, a B.A. in math and economics from Syracuse University.

Afterwards, she went on to Stanford, where she graduated with a master of science degree in operations research. Finally, in 1986 she graduated from Webster University with a master of arts degree in space systems management.

By the time Collins went to Stanford, she had already completed a pilot training course at Vance Air Force Base.

3. She Was the First Female Space Shuttle Commander

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Eileen Collins waves to press after a practice flight at the Kennedy Space Center. (Getty)

In 1978, Collins was picked for a U.S. Air Force pilot training program at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. She was one of four women in a class of 320 people, according to Makers.

After spending a few years as an assistant math professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy, in 1989, she applied to NASA, and she joined the space shuttle program’s pilot training the following year. She was the first woman to undergo this training.

She piloted her first space shuttle mission in 1995, becoming the first woman to do so. Years later, in 1999, she became the first female commander of a space shuttle mission.

Both of these milestones were celebrated as historic. Then First Lady Hillary Clinton said at the time, “Eileen Collins will take one big step forward for women, and one giant leap for humanity.”

4. She Didn’t Want Her RNC Speech to Be Political

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Eileen Collins attends a House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in 2015. (Getty)

Many were surprised to see Eileen Collins show up on the Republican National Convention schedule earlier this week, as she has never really been involved in the word of politics. In fact, some of Collins’ friends and admirers were disappointed to see her apparently showing support for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

But Collins recently said that she did not intend for the appearance to be political in nature. Instead, she wanted to discuss how the U.S. space program has been abandoned recently, as opposed to the Apollo era when Americans felt inspired by NASA.

“This is a chance I could not pass up,” she told Mashable. “We can raise awareness of how the U.S. human space program has slowed over the years.”

However, some feel that making any sort of appearance at the RNC, regardless of what Collins says, is inherently political.

“I can’t see how you can show up on a convention floor and not at least imply support of a party’s candidate,” George Washington University professor John Logsdon told Mashable.

5. She’s Married & Has Two Children

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Eileen Collins waves as she parades in the Discovery crew member Soichi Noguchi’s home town in 2005 in Chigasaki, Japan. (Getty)

Collins’ husband is Pat Youngs, a fellow pilot. The two were married in 1987.

Eileen and Pat have two children, 20-year-old Bridget and 15-year-old Luke, according to Space.com.

When Collins retired in 2006, she cited her family as a part of the reason.

“The number one thing for me now is to spend time with my family…They’ve put up with all of my training schedules and then I was gone for five weeks over last summer,” she said.