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October 27, 1999

Kirsten Williams
Headquarters, Washington, DC
(Phone: 202/358-0243)

Eileen Hawley
Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
(Phone: 281/483-5111)

RELEASE: H99-125

First Female Shuttle Commander Eileen Collins Receives Jackie Robinson Medal

NASA astronaut Eileen Collins, a New York native, today received the state's highest award, the Jackie Robinson Empire State Freedom Medal, for her achievement as the first female Space Shuttle commander.

Collins has "etched her mark on history by knocking down barriers," said New York Gov. George E. Pataki, who presented the award to Collins. "A bold pioneer of the reaches of space, her talent, intelligence and courage set an example that every woman and every man can hope to duplicate in their own lives."

During the historic STS-93 mission, Collins and her crew deployed the heaviest, largest and most powerful X-ray telescope ever launched into space. Called the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the telescope allows scientists to peer into an invisible and violent realm of the cosmos that contains some of the most intriguing mysteries in astronomy.

The Freedom Medal, established in 1997, is given annually to those who best demonstrate the qualities of determination, dignity, fairness and honor that were exemplified by Jackie Robinson, who broke major league baseball's color barrier. The medal has an imprint of Jackie Robinson on the front with the words "Freedom, Honor, Liberty." The back reads: "Presented to honor conduct exemplifying the spirit of New York as demonstrated by the life of Jack Roosevelt Robinson."

This year's award also was bestowed posthumously on Brooklyn Dodger Captain Harold Henry "Pee Wee" Reese. Last year's recipient was Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa.

Collins was selected as an astronaut in 1990, and became the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle in 1995. She has flown three missions and logged more than 500 hours in space.

Collins, an Air Force colonel, graduated from Syracuse University in 1978, before joining the Air Force. During her Air Force career, she has worked as an instructor pilot, aircraft commander, and assistant professor of mathematics at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO.


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