It was 1994, a bright day in June as a coach bus pulled up to the Kennedy Space Center, full of new astronauts that had finished their training. Most of them were men, but there were a good number of women there as well. The bus stopped in the front parking lot and the new astronauts climbed out, looking around amazed at their new surroundings as their instructor, a veteran astronaut, walked up to greet them.
Among the astronauts was a young woman in her 30’s. She had light brown and slightly curly hair that she had cut short, light hazelnut eyes, and she was wearing the same deep blue flight suit that the rest of her fellow astronauts were wearing. Her name was Eileen Collins.
Born in Elmira NY, on November 19th 1956, Eileen as a young girl had loved flight ever since she was young. Though she hadn’t had a lot of money several times when growing up, by the age of 19 she’d saved up a thousand dollars for flying lessons. Eileen had attended Corning Community College and later Syracuse university, earning an associate degree and a B.A. respectively. She’d been selected to be an astronaut in 1990 when attending test pilot school when she’d been in the Air Force. Right now, she was married to a man named Pat Youngs whom she’d met in the air force, but she didn’t have any children.
As the astronauts were taken around the center, Eileen was quiet, didn’t ask a lot of questions and walked in the middle of the group, but she was very attentive and listened to every word that the instructor said. However, underneath her calm, shy exterior, she was bubbling with excitement as she looked around at the various trainer jets and the facilities. “This is where I belong…” She said to herself. Indeed she felt she was going to have the best experience of her life.
The group was led to the space shuttle hangars. “Now ladies and gentlemen, we will introduce you to our orbiter fleet, Columbia, Atlantis and Endeavour. You may touch them, but only rub their noses, do not look them directly in the eye and please do not talk in a babyish voice to them. Whatever you do, do not touch them under their chins or on their bellies!” The instructor said as he approached the three shuttles.
The astronauts moved closer, cautiously approached, warily eyeing the sharp teeth of the three shuttles. “Easy boy…” One of them said as he approached Columbia, only for her to growl. “She’s a female, Mr. Grays. All of them are female.” The instructor said, as he gently rubbed Columbia’s nose. “Easy girl, he didn’t mean it ok?” Columbia calmed down a little, but still eyed Mr. Grays with caution.
Eileen gently did as the instructor said, first stroking Columbia’s nose, then Atlantis’s and Endeavour’s, careful not to look them in the eye. Endeavour, who had backed away from most of the astronauts, surprisingly stayed still when Eileen touched her. A few had already noticed this, and while some looked at her with awe, others such as Mr. Grays had an envious look on their faces.
However, that was when Eileen remembered something. “Errrr…. Excuse me!” She called out, talking for the first time that day, causing everyone to turn and look at her. “Yes Ms. Collins do you have a question?” The instructor asked. “Yes I do, sir. If I remember correctly there are four shuttles. Why are we only being introduced to three?”
At this, all the astronauts turned to look at the instructor, when they remembered that there were indeed supposed to be four shuttles in the fleet. For the first time that day, the instructor started to look a little uneasy. “Well… “ He cleared his throat. “The third orbiter Discovery is not being introduced because she doesn’t do well around humans…” He said. “We will wait until you are all more experienced before you can meet her face to face.”
The other astronauts seemed satisfied by this answer, but Eileen was still curious. “Why does she shut everyone out?” She thought to herself, looking at a hangar with a locked door that had the name DISCOVERY on it. When no one was looking, she quietly slipped away from the group and cautiously made her way towards the hangar. Slowly edging forward, she looked at the closed door for a minute before leaning forward and peering through the crack.
Inside was a large space shuttle, much like her sisters, and she had the name DISCOVERY printed on her side. She was sitting glumly on her bed in the corner. Her eyes were fixed on the ground. She didn’t seem to notice Eileen, but her nose twitched and she growled a little. Eileen stood there for a moment, wondering if she should knock. Slowly she raised her hand towards the handle of the door…
“Eileen Collins! Get back with the group please!” Eileen jumped and whirled around and she saw the instructer was looking her way. “I’m sorry sir! I’ll be right there!” She started to walk back to the group of astronauts, but she couldn’t resist turning around and looking at the closed hangar door again.
She certainly was going to remember this shuttle…