Mom Will Be Away For A While

TIME talks to Eileen Collins, commander of the first shuttle mission since the Columbia

She grew up in a housing project in Elmira, N.Y., lived on food stamps for a time and thought about being a math teacher after seeing her father, a surveyor, lay out streets. But Eileen Collins went into the Air Force instead and in 1999 became the first woman to command a shuttle mission--on the Columbia, which broke apart in midair less than four years later, killing its crew of seven. As soon as next month, Collins, 48, will command the shuttle Discovery in the first U.S. manned space flight since the Columbia disaster brought such missions to a halt.

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