Discovery's Commander Speaks

Discovery's commander is Eileen Collins, who made history in 1997 as the first woman to pilot a space shuttle. Two years later, she became NASA's first female commander.

When The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler talked with her, she was, of course, excited about Wednesday's planned launch. But she also has Columbia on her mind.

"Clearly, I'll be reflecting," Collins said, "I think about the Columbia crew every day."

For Collins and the six other shuttle Discovery astronauts, their upcoming mission will be filled with reminders of those who went before.

Collins noted, "So one of the things we're going to do as a crew is fly their picture and put it on the mid-deck so we could see it every day, because we are truly, we're doing what they would want us to do, and we're carrying on their mission."

In the wake of Columbia, an investigative panel found that too often, NASA would insist on getting shuttles off the ground, "ignoring" potential warning signs. And that scenario may have doomed the Columbia mission.

"All of us have learned from this," Collins told Syler. "We're not going to forget it. We brought the focus in on the safety of our space program, and you can't run a space program on a shoestring budget and with schedule pressure."

This time around, NASA imposed several delays, while looking at every potential safety concern.

Michael Griffin, NASA administrator, said, "We're going to return to flight. We're not going to rush to flight. And we want it to be right."

For Collins, returning to flight after two-and-a-half years carries an enormous responsibility. Not just to her crew, but also to her 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

Collins said her daughter is old enough to understand the risks, but noted, "I have asked her several different times, 'Are you worried about my safety?' She always says, 'No, Mom. I just don't want you to be gone for three weeks!'"