NASA Names Second Female Shuttle Commander
NASA Astronaut Pamela Melroy, STS-112 pilot, holds camera equipment as she floats in the Zvezda Service Module on the International Space Station (ISS) in October 2002.
Credit: NASA/JSC.

Astronaut Pamela Melroy, a two-time shuttle pilot, will become the second woman to command a NASA shuttle when she leads the upcoming STS-120 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), the space agency said Monday.

Melroy, a U.S. Air Force colonel hailing from Rochester, New York, will command a crew of six astronauts charged with delivering a new connecting node to the ISS. Built for NASA in Italy, the Node 2 module will serve as a link between other habitable space station compartments.

Joining Melroy on the STS-120 mission - currently the fifth shuttle flight to fly after NASA's STS-121 spaceflight launches next month - are pilot George Zamka, mission specialists Scott Parazynski, Douglas Wheelock, Michael Foreman and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Melroy is only the second female astronaut to command a U.S. orbiter after shuttle veteran Eileen Collins, who led NASA's STS-114 return to flight mission in 2005 and retired in May 2006. Collins first commanded a shuttle mission in 1999 after serving as pilot on two previous flights.

Selected to join NASA's astronaut corps in 1994, Melroy served as shuttle pilot aboard the Discovery orbiter during STS-92, an ISS construction mission that launched on Oct. 11, 2000. She also served as pilot for the STS-112 shuttle flight aboard Atlantis during its ISS-bound mission in 2002.

Melroy joined the U.S. Air Force in 1983 after earning a degree in physics and astronomy from Wellesley College. She also earned a master's degree in Earth and planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1984, NASA said.