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New documentary 'Spacewoman' to share story of shuttle commander

February 6, 2024

— The first woman to lead a U.S. mission into space has now commanded the attention of a documentary crew.

"Spacewoman," from director Hannah Berryman, will tell the life story of former U.S. Air Force pilot and NASA astronaut Eileen Collins, who in 1999 launched as the commander of the space shuttle.

"I am enormously excited to be involved with this film project," said Collins in a statement. "It is more than my personal journey through life's challenges; it also includes the thrill of flying jets, my determination to be an astronaut, commanding the space shuttle and the many relationships I built along the way."

Based on the book by Collins and Jonathan Ward, "Through The Glass Ceiling to the Stars: The Story of the First American Woman to Command a Space Mission" (Arcade Publishing, 2021), "Spacewoman" will bring to the screen the story of the aviation pioneer, from Collins' early years as one of the Air Force's first female pilots (she was only the second woman admitted to the elite test pilot program at Edwards Air Force Base) to her selection by NASA and becoming the first woman to pilot the space shuttle.

The film will also follow Collins through her four trips to space, including missions to rendezvous and dock with the Russian space station Mir; the deployment of an X-ray astronomical observatory; and the first launch after the loss of space shuttle Columbia in 2003.

Like the book, "Spacewoman" will profile Collins' personal journey, from being the shy, quiet child of an alcoholic father and struggling single mother to being an unremarkable student with few prospects when she graduated from high school to pursuing to her secret dream of flying into space.

"Eileen's journey from an underprivileged childhood in small town America to becoming the first woman to pilot and command a space shuttle is a fascinating one. The emotional drama of her family's tale is just as gripping as the risks the shuttle astronauts like Eileen had to take," said Berryman ("Coco Chanel: Unbuttoned," "Rockfield: the Studio on the Farm," "Princess Margaret: The Rebel Royal.")

"Spacewoman" is on track to be completed later this year and is aiming for a theatrical release in 2025. The 90-minute film is being produced by Keith Haviland of Haviland Digital ("Armstrong," "Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo," "The Last Man on the Moon") and Natasha Dack Ojumu of Tigerlily ("ENO," "Blue Bag Life," "The Lovers and the Despot"), both award-winning filmmakers.

"I've admired Colonel Collins for many years, so it's a genuine and immense privilege to be able to help bring the story of her career and her family's journey to the screen," Haviland told collectSPACE. "Her career was significant."

"Eileen's story, and that of her family, is an important part of space history," he said.

In addition to announcing the documentary, the filmmakers also released the first key art for "Spacewoman" featuring a photo of Collins taken by celebrated portraitist Annie Leibowitz. A different image from the same photoshoot was the cover art for "Through the Glass Ceiling to the Stars."

Collins today is an inspirational speaker about space exploration and leadership. Her and Ward's book drew wide praise from fellow astronauts, Air Force officials and well-known figures including fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger and singer-songwriter Judy Collins. Actor Tom Hanks wrote, "Given the chance, I would long ponder trading places with Eileen Collins."


Key art for director Hannah Berryman's upcoming documentary "Spacewoman" features astronaut Eileen Collins as photographed by Annie Leibovitz in 1999. (Spacewoman Film)

"Spacewoman" is based on the book "Through the Glass Ceiling to the Stars" by Eileen Collins with Jonathan Ward. (Jonathan Ward)

Astronaut Eileen Collins looks over a procedures checklist at the commander's station on the forward flight deck of space shuttle Columbia. (NASA)

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