5. Eileen Collins
While many of the women on this list reached NASA through scientific careers, Eileen Collins showed that this was not the only path. She came to space via her Air Force career as both a military instructor and test pilot. Thanks to her time as a military pilot, Collins became the first female pilot of a space shuttle, as well as the first female commander on a NASA mission.
Of course, none of this is meant to imply that Collins is an intellectual slouch. She’s earned two master’s degrees, including one MS in operations research from Stanford, and an MA in space systems management from Webster University. During this time, she was also an assistant professor of mathematics at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Shortly after earning her MA in 1989, Collins also attended the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, becoming only the second woman to do so. She was selected for NASA’s astronaut program in 1990. Her first flight took place in 1995, where she piloted a rendezvous between space shuttle Discovery and the Russian space station Mir. Later, in 1999, she commanded mission STS-93.
For STS-114, a 2005 mission, she completed the first 360-degree maneuver of the Space Shuttle. This maneuver was intended so that astronauts aboard the International Space Station could document any potential damage to the shuttle’s exterior prior to re-entry. Damage caused by a loose piece of foam had doomed the earlier Columbia mission.