Eileen Collins Rides TV Air Waves Instead of Space Shuttle

Associated Press Writer
Saturday, July 1, 2006; 3:10 PM

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- Last year, Eileen Collins sat on more than a million pounds of explosive fuel, strapped into a space shuttle.

Saturday she sat in a director's chair awaiting liftoff for seven of her former colleagues -- more anxious than she was as shuttle commander.

"I am much more nervous watching a launch," said Collins, 49, who retired from NASA two months ago and was working as a TV commentator this weekend. "When I'm in the orbiter, flying my own mission, I'm very calm."

In July a year ago, all space exploration attention was focused on Collins who was about to lead the first shuttle mission since the Columbia disaster in 2003.

This time around she's working for CNN, hanging out with reporters at the Kennedy Space Center media compound. She was asking public affairs officers for updates on a thruster heater problem threatening to delay the launch. The first female space commander also shared anecdotes with television anchors about her time in space.

Collins left NASA in May to spend more time with her husband and two children. She hasn't decide what her next job will be but hopes it's in the space industry.

"When you're watching a launch, you have a little more time to think about all the things that could happen," Collins told The Associated Press. "Of course the adrenaline is always up there, but you're much more focused on your task at hand when you're in the orbiter. You're very careful to follow procedures, making sure you're throwing the right switches."

During last summer's mission aboard Discovery, Collins and her crew threw all the right switches and performed flawlessly. The same couldn't be said for the space shuttle; its external tank shed a 1-pound chunk of foam in a scene reminiscent of the Columbia accident that killed seven astronauts.

Worries over foam shedding hung over Saturday's launch.

But Collins said the time to fly is now.

"There are risks in flying the shuttle that are more serious than the foam," Collins said. "We've elected to fly with those risks ... It's time to fly again."


On the Net:

Eileen Collins bio: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/collins.html

AP-ES-07-01-06 1459EDT

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