[Continued from last month] Eileen Collins became a NASA astronaut in 1991. She flew four space shuttle missions, two as pilot and two as commander. In fact, she was the first woman pilot and first woman commander of a shuttle. She spent a total of more than 537 hours in space. Collins was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 2001.
Another interesting thing that I should mention, which goes back a year before the launch [of STS-63], was when our management at NASA and the Russian management agreed to even do this mission. The original plan was that we would go to a thousand feet [of Mir], I can't remember how many meters. The Russians were talking in meters and we were talking in feet. But this gradually kept getting changed. We would negotiate with the Russians to go in closer. We were really glad that we agreed to a thousand feet, but we really were not going to learn that much by going to a thousand feet. We got to get in closer. So we negotiated for a long time.
I remember the talks in Mission Control with Victor Blagov, who was the flight director on the Russian side of the mission. Our commander, Jim Wetherbee, would be talking with him and there would be a translator. They wouldn't agree right away, but eventually, we talked them down to a hundred feet. We had a radar, we had a TCS, our trajectory control system, which is a laser. These are our navigation aids. We had a handheld laser. We wanted to test our navigation instruments and we really need to get in closer. We wanted to test our comm [communication] system. We need to get in closer. We need to spend more time. So we agreed to a hundred feet.
Then as the months went by, we really need to get in closer. Let's get somewhere closer than a hundred feet. And Russia would say, "No, no, no, we don't want to do that." Of course, they are concerned about their space station. Well, you know, if we are going to go in and do this docking mission, we really need to go in closer on the rendezvous mission. So we eventually talked them down to 30 feet, because we wanted to see if the shuttle handling qualities were going to be any different when you got in close. Of course, there really wasn't any difference between being at 100 feet or at 30 feet, but it gave us opportunity to practice the procedures up to 30 feet.
There was some question as to when the shuttle jets fire, could that cause any contamination on the Russian space station. So we went to a mode that flight control called low Z, which would not fire any jets in the Z direction, which happened to be a minus Z direction. But that would be straight at the Russian space station. So none of those jets were fired. So to slow down, we fired our X jets, which actually fire in a fore and aft direction from the shuttle. But they are canted just a little bit in the direction where you get some braking out of them. I would have to show a picture to really describe it, but we used a low Z mode on the jets. These procedures were developed on Mir, and then we came to this space station program and, heck, we pretty much used the same procedures on the station that we had used on our rendezvous with the Mir, with some differences. But we had fewer unknowns.
[March is Women's History Month. This series of excerpts from Eileen Collins' oral history interview will conclude next month with a summary of her entry into a male-dominated career.]