School’s VIP visitor was out of this world

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The first woman to pilot a space shuttle landed in Wakefield to give a talk to school pupils from across the district.

Retired NASA astronaut Eileen Collins talked about her career and answered questions from schoolchildren during a visit to Wakefield Girls’ High School.

Students from schools including Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, English Martyrs Primary School, Outwood Grange Academy and Pontefract NEW College took part in the event.

Gillian Wallwork, Wakefield Girls’ High School head teacher, said: “Eileen’s enthusiasm and passion for space travel was infectious for the budding scientists at the school.

“She was an inspiration to everyone. She was gracious and generous with her time and was modest about her amazing accomplishments.”

Mrs Collins, 58, is one of only 55 women who have been to space.

She was chosen to be an astronaut by NASA in 1990.

In 1995 she served on STS-63 for a docking mission to Russian space station Mir and became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle.

She also became the first woman to command a space shuttle when she led STS-93 into orbit in 1999, to deploy the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Youngsters were shown footage of the shuttles docking and space walks as well as photographs of earth from outer space.

Dave Collett, the school’s head of physics, said: “Eileen was an inspirational speaker and a wonderful role model for the students.”

Mrs Collins was awarded the Harmon Trophy for her achievements in space travel.

She is also a former American Air Force Colonel and has logged a total of 38 days, eight hours and 10 minutes in outer space.

She retired as a NASA astronaut in 2006.