First woman to command NASA shuttle to speak at Mississippi gala

Published 10:16 pm Friday, July 21, 2023

Eileen Collins, the first woman to pilot and command an American spacecraft, will be the featured speaker for Mississippi University for Women’s 2023 Welty Gala at 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 20, at the Trotter Convention Center in downtown Columbus.

Nora Miller, W president, said, “We are thrilled to bring Col. Collins to share her story with us at the Welty Gala.  Breaking through glass ceilings and advancing leadership opportunities for women is key to The W’s mission, and Collins’ accomplishments are inspiring.”

As a child in Elmira, New York, Collins dreamed of becoming a pilot. Her parents nurtured her dream, often taking her to Elmira’s “soaring field” to watch gliders take flight. Reading every book she could on aviation, Collins began saving up money for flying lessons at the age of 16.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

After graduating from Syracuse University, Collins entered the Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training Program. In 1990, she was selected for NASA’s astronaut program, and in February 1995, on the STS-63 Discovery mission, she became the first woman ever to pilot a Space Shuttle. Collins piloted STS-84 Atlantis in May 1997, and in July 1999 she achieved another milestone when she became the first woman ever to command a Shuttle mission, STS-93 Columbia. After flying one final NASA mission in July 2005 as commander of STS-114 Discovery, Collins retired.

While logging 872 hours in space, Collins earned a reputation for coolness under pressure. With that same calm demeanor, she shares how her career as an astronaut took shape, from her early years in the U.S. Air Force to her ground-breaking experience with NASA. Her memoir, “Through the Glass Ceiling to the Stars,” was published in 2021. In 2022, Collins was awarded the National Aeronautic Association’s Wright Brothers Award for her inspirational career as an astronaut, teacher and leader.

Now that she has realized her dreams of being both a pilot and an astronaut, Collins has a new dream: that someday people will discover new ways to fly higher, faster and farther, and that someday we will travel beyond our solar system. Recognized as one of America’s most admired women, she now shares her experiences as a test pilot, astronaut and space flight commander with audiences around the world.

The Welty Gala is part of the signature Welty Series held annually in October to honor the university’s world-renowned alumna Eudora Welty. As part of the Welty Series, The W also hosts the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium set for Oct. 19-21.

Andrea Stevens, W executive director of development and alumni, added, The Welty Gala is our annual fundraiser for the MUW Scholarship Fund.  Proceeds from the event provide an opportunity for our deserving students to continue their education and pursue their dreams.  The black-tie optional gala is a wonderful opportunity for our alumni and friends to enjoy an elegant evening and to hear Colonel Collins.”

Gala sponsorships are available at different levels and offer opportunities for attendees to enjoy a private reception with the guest speaker along with premium seating during dinner. A book signing and question-and-answer session will follow the program. Black tie is optional.

Online registration is available at

To sponsor the 2023 Welty Gala please call the Office of Development and Alumni at (662) 329-7148.