NAVY CAPTAIN DAVID BROWN
"I remember growing up, and thinking astronauts, and their job, was the coolest thing you could possibly do."
U.S. Navy Captain David Brown left a taped message on his parents' home answering machine at their home In Arlington, Virginia. He was calling from the launching Pad to say, "we're going to have a great trip".
And so they did. Saturday morning, after 16 days in space, and just 16 minutes from touchdown, back in Florida, Captain Brown's first mission in space came to a tragic end. The shuttle Columbia disintegrated in the sky above the U.S.
The others on board included mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, who was born in Karnal, India. She is a naturalized U.S. citizen with a doctorate in aerospace engineering, among other things studying the effects of weightlessness on the body. Her first mission took her on 252 orbits of the earth, travelling 6.5 million miles.
Adding to the mission's international flavor, payload specialist Ilan Ramon, a colonel in the Israeli Air Force. The first Israeli in space, he was born in Tel Aviv, and had more than 3000 hours in A-4 and Mirage III-C fighter jets, more than a thousand in the F-16. In 1981, he flew in Israel’s mission that took out Iraq’s nuclear reactor.
The shuttle commander, Air Force colonel Rick Husband, at 45, was finally getting to do what he'd always wanted to do. But not before he had been rejected, four times.
COL. RICK HUSBAND
"From the time I was about four years old, I wanted to be an astronaut.”
Air Force Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Anderson , the payload commander, was doing research for African-American nales who have a high rate of prostate cancer.
Forty-one-year-old Laurel Clark. a U.S. Navy commander, had trained with the Navy’s special operations unit, the seals. She was on board to help with several science experiments.
The Columbia's pilot, also a navy commander, and like colonel husband, a Texan, 40-year-old William McCool, had graduated near the top of his class at the U.S. Naval Academy.
CMDR. WILLIAM McCOOL
"At least this way I'll get the opportunity to smell the smells, see the sights, write down some notes, and bring back some of the experiences to share with people:”
Commander McCool’s mother, Audrey, herself a military reservist, believes strongly that the shuttle program, and the exploration of space, must continue.
MRS. AUDREY McCOOL
"Don't give up the dream, because science is important to all of us. And nothing is perfect, and, unfortunately, his crew happened to be the one where it wasn't perfect.”
The Columbia Seven join the ranks of the seven Challenger crewmembers, lost in an explosion, and the three Apollo astronauts who died in a launchpad fire.