Air Force Col. Pamela Ann Melroy will become the second woman to command a space shuttle mission when her crew heads to the international space station next year, NASA announced.
Melroy, 44, follows in the footsteps of Eileen Collins, who charted a groundbreaking career as the first woman to pilot and command a space shuttle.
Collins retired from NASA in May after serving as commander last year of the first space shuttle since the 2003 Columbia disaster.
Melroy and five crew members will fly to the international space station aboard space shuttle Atlantis to deliver a module that eventually will connect to European and Japanese science laboratories, NASA announced Monday. The mission is tentatively slated for late summer 2007.
Other crew members are pilot George Zamka and mission specialists Scott Parazynski, Doug Wheelock, Mike Foreman and Paolo Nespoli.
It will be the third shuttle mission for Melroy, who served as a pilot on shuttle flights in 2000 and 2002. She is a native of Palo Alto, Calif., who graduated from Wellesley College and earned a master's degree in Earth and planetary sciences from MIT.
Collins became the first female pilot on a space shuttle with the flight of Discovery in 1995, the first mission to rendezvous with the Russian space station Mir. She later became the first female commander on the 1999 Columbia flight.