How fitting that as Americans celebrate Women's History Month another barrier has come tumbling down. This one involves the Final Frontier.

Last week, Eileen Collins, an Air Force lieutenant colonel, was selected as the nation's first female space commander. Collins, who already held the distinction of being the first female space shuttle pilot, will command the Columbia on a mission scheduled for December. The mission will deploy an advanced telescope to gaze at the deepest reaches of outer space.Collins, at a White House ceremony, said she hoped her historic mission would capture the imagination of America's youth. "When I was a child I dreamed about space. I admired pilots, astronauts, and I've admired explorers of all kinds. It was only a dream of mine that I would someday be one of them."

Dreams indeed can come true for women as well as men, and that's the way it should be.

This was hardly a token appointment. Collins earned her space commander post just as she had earned previous ones - through initiative, skill and hard work.

Collins, like the commanders who succeeded her, has impressive credentials. She has logged 420 hours in space and 4,700-plus hours in 30 different types of aircraft.

A career military pilot, Collins trained at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma. From 1983 to 1985 she was an aircraft commander and instructor pilot at Travis Air Force Base in California. She was an assistant professor of mathematics from 1986 to 1989 at the Air Force Academy. She was selected for the astronaut program while attending the elite Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Collins became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle in 1995. Her second shuttle flight, last May, was a mission to rendezvous and dock with the Russian space station Mir.

Twenty years ago a group of six became the first women to become astronauts. As they, their successors and now Collins have clearly shown, you don't have to be a male to have the right stuff.