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U.S. Astronaut Hall Of Fame Class Of 2013 First To Include Two Women

Apr 22, 2013 03:46 PM EDT

Eileen Collins, Curt Brown and Bonnie Dunbar joined the ranks of some of Space's exploration's biggest names when they were inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on April 20.

The group, called the 2013 class, is the first to include two women.

The night's emotions covered the whole spectrum for those in attendance, which included Buzz Aldrin among others, as the focus moved from each individual's hard-earned achievements, to the humor some encountered in space exploration and finally to remembering the crews of both Challenger and Columbia.

"It's hard for us to remember that," Collins said, according to USA Today. "It's hard for us to lose our friends, who gave their lives in the name of space exploration. The lessons learned were hard for us ... but those lessons still apply. We need to stay humble. Be good listeners. Think creatively. Respect the hardware."

Collins was the first woman to pilot and command a space shuttle. She was also the commander for the first mission to take place after the Columbia tragedy and is described by fellow Hall of Fame astronaut Bob Cabana as "one of the nicest, most diligent, studious, organized, by the book, dedicated astronauts I've ever known."

Dunbar said she was just eight or nine when she sent a letter to NASA to inform the agency that she hoped to work for them one day.

"We didn't have much but we certainly had great, open skies at night," she said of her childhood in Sunnyside, Wash. "You could see the stars and the Milky Way."

In particular, Dunbar said she remembers when, looking at the stars on a clear, crisp night, how the sight left her "almost physically weak" and she thought, "'This is what I've got to do for the rest of my life.'"

Dunbar, 64, is the veteran of five shuttle missions, including the only one to carry a crew of eight astronauts.

Brown, 57, is the veteran of six shuttle missions. He was the commander of the Discovery flight that carried legendary John Glenn back to space almost 40 years after he became the first American to orbit the Earth. Brown's only regret, he said, was that Glenn couldn't be there with him that night. 

"That would have meant a lot to me," he said. "He was a wonderful crew member." 

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