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First woman to command a US spacecraft 'signs' patch to inspire girls

May 4, 2024

— A collectible embroidered patch created to honor the first woman to command a U.S. spacecraft features a geometric pattern representing the glow of her space shuttle lifting off into the night sky.

The colorful, diamond-shaped shards could also be seen as the figurative "glass ceiling" that Eileen Collins broke through on her way to the stars.

The latest patch from the 59,000-member Space Hipsters group on Facebook, each Eileen Collins "Signature Edition" emblem includes the astronaut's autograph sewn into the design. Sales of the patches benefit Taking Up Space, a non-profit organization empowering middle-school-age Native American girls to soar beyond their barriers by sending them to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

The second woman to attend the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, Collins was selected to become a NASA astronaut in 1990. She was the first woman to fly as the pilot on a space shuttle mission when she launched on STS-63 in 1995, and she flew again in the right-side seat on STS-84 two years later. Both flights visited the space station Mir, with the earlier being the first shuttle mission to rendezvous with the Russian outpost and the latter the sixth to dock there.

Then in 1999, Collins became the first woman to command a U.S. spacecraft, leading the STS-93 crew aboard space shuttle Columbia on a mission to deploy to the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Six years later, after the loss of Columbia on a subsequent mission, Collins led the orbiter fleet's return to flight, commanding the STS-114 crew on shuttle Discovery.

In total, Collins logged more than 36 days in space over the course of her four missions. Collins was the 21st U.S. woman to fly into space and the 27th worldwide. She was the 328th person to leave Earth's atmosphere and the 321st to orbit the planet, according to the Association of Space Explorers' Registry of Space Travelers.

Collins penned her memoirs, "Through the Glass Ceiling to the Stars," in 2021. It is now the basis for an upcoming documentary, "Spacewoman."

Collins' Signature Edition patch depicts her history-making STS-93 launch and includes stars in its border to represent each of her shuttle missions. Other stars in the emblem's design symbolize the first woman to fly into space, Soviet-era cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova; the first U.S. female astronaut in space, Sally Ride; and the four women who have lost their lives in the pursuit of spaceflight and exploration, Judy Resnik, Christa McAuliffe, Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark.

As with previous Signature Edition releases, the Collins patch has been produced by A-B Emblem, the North Carolina-based company that also is NASA's supplier and made the STS-63, STS-84, STS-93 and STS-114 emblems that Collins wore into space.

There are four versions of Collins' patch offered for donations to Taking Up Space:

  • A limited edition of 50 "gold" patches with Collins' facsimile signature embroidered in metallic gold thread, the shuttle's plume in orange thread and individually-numbered display cards, each hand-signed by Collins.

  • A limited edition of 100 "silver" patches "signed" in silver metallic thread with the shuttle's plume in shades of blue. They also come on numbered cards autographed by Collins.

  • Two open edition patches that lack metallic thread and come without a display card. Both versions include Collins' signature in white thread, and are available in either blue or orange colorways.

The patches are priced at $75 for each gold edition, $50 for silver and $15 for the open edition (or $25 for a set of the blue and orange variants). There is a limit of one gold and two silver patches per person.

There are also 4-inch (10-centimeter) vinyl stickers of the open edition blue and orange designs available for $3 ($5 for two) as add-on to patch orders. Details on how to place orders can be found on the Space Hipsters Facebook group.

The Collins patch is the fifth entry in the Space Hipsters' Signature Edition series. The group previously offered emblems celebrating Apollo 13 pilot Fred Haise and shuttle astronauts Mike Mullane, Hoot Gibson and John Herrington.


Eileen Collins' "Signature Edition" patch depicts the launch that saw her become the first woman to command a U.S. spacecraft, breaking the "glass ceiling to the stars." (Space Hipsters/NASA)

Eileen Collins flew four times into space, including twice to the space station Mir, once to the International Space Station and on a mission to deploy the Chandra X-ray Observatory. (NASA)

Eileen Collins' "Signature Edition" patch comes in gold, silver and open editions, with blue and/or orange colorways. (Space Hipsters)

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