Four rookies, three veterans on a mission


Published: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 3:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 12:00 a.m.
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The space shuttle Columbia crew, waving to onlookers, exits the Operations and Checkout Building on their way to Launch Pad 39A for liftoff, Thursday Jan. 16, 2001 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Leading the way are Pilot William "Willie" McCool, left, and Commander Rick Husband, right. Following in the second row are Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla, left, and Laurel Clark; in the rear are Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Payload Commander Michael Anderson and Mission Specialist David Brown. Columbia broke apart in flames over Texas on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2003 killing all seven astronauts just 16 minutes before they were supposed to glide to ground in Florida.

AP Photo/NASA
The seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Columbia included four who had never before flown on a space mission. One of them, Ilan Ramon, had, with this flight, become the first Israeli to fly in space and he had taken with him a small Torah scroll that had been secretly read by Jews in one of the Nazi death camps.
Mission commander The commander of the mission was Rick Douglas Husband, a 45-year-old Air Force colonel from Amarillo, Texas, who had yearned to be an astronaut since he was a child.
In an interview just before the launching of the Columbia, he said, "It's been pretty much a lifelong dream and just a thrill to be able to get to actually live it out," The Associated Press reported.
Husband, a former test pilot with more than 3,800 hours of flight time in more than 40 types of aircraft, was chosen for the NASA space program in 1994, his fourth time applying to be an astronaut. He had served on one earlier space flight, in 1999, a 10-day mission in which a shuttle crew docked with the International Space Station for the first time.
Husband had a wife and two children, and his official biography from NASA said he enjoyed "singing, water and snow skiing, cycling and spending time with his family."
Some controversy Another veteran astronaut on the flight had a slightly more controversial history.
Kalpana Chawla, 41, one of two women aboard the flight, had previously served on a mission in which a science satellite malfunctioned and caused part of the mission to be botched.
Chawla, an aerospace engineer who emigrated from India to the United States in the 1980s and became an astronaut in 1994, had been in charge of the satellite on the 1997 flight of the Columbia, her first time in space.
Chawla released the Spartan satellite, but when it failed to signal that its systems were working, she tried to grab it with the shuttle's robot arm. Instead, she inadvertently sent the satellite into a slow spin.
Eventually, two astronauts had to chase the satellite in space and pull it back on board the spacecraft. The time that took forced the mission to forgo several important scientific tests it was supposed to perform concerning the construction of the International Space Station.
On this Columbia mission, Chawla was supervising more than a dozen science experiments, including some on plant growth and crystal structure. She was even supposed to be the subject of one experiment; as a lifelong vegetarian, she planned to provide information on how she fared in space on a vegetarian diet.
Momentous flight The Columbia flight was a momentous one for Ramon, 48, Israel's first astronaut, who had taken along several Jewish symbols to commemorate the achievement for his country. Security had been unusually tight for the mission because of Ramon's Israeli background.
Ramon's mother and grandmother had survived Auschwitz, and his father and grandfather fought for Israel's statehood in 1948. A fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force, Ramon fought in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 1982 war in Lebanon.
In 1997, Ramon, whose wife and four children live in Tel Aviv, moved to Houston to train for the shuttle flight. The small torah he took with him on the mission belonged to a physics professor at Tel Aviv University, Joachin Joseph, who had been a child in the Bergen-Belsen camp during World War II. Joseph, who was overseeing one of the science experiments on the mission, about how dust and pollution affect the climate on earth, had used the Torah in the camp to study for his bar mitzvah.
Ramon also took a kiddush cup with him on the mission, but said in a television interview from space a few days after the launching that he had been too busy to celebrate the sabbath.
"The only thing I did have is a kiddush cup, but I even missed that for Friday," he said in the interview. "I hope I'll do it next Friday."
He held up the silver cup and let it go, watching it float upright next to him. He was not allowed to take sabbath wine him because NASA bans taking any alcohol into space.
Others aboard Also on the flight was Dr. Laurel Blair Salton Clark, a Navy commander and flight surgeon from Racine, Wis. Clark, 41, who trained first as a pediatrician, later became a Navy undersea medical officer, serving on several submarine missions. She also had a degree in zoology.
Clark, who had a husband and an 8-year-old son, told The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in an interview from the Columbia that her first trip into space was thrilling.
"This has been a great experience for me," she said. "The first couple of days you don't always feel too well. I feel wonderful now. The first couple of days you adjust to the fluid shifting, how to fly through space without hitting things or anybody else. But then after a couple of days you get in a groove. It's just an incredibly magical place."
Soon after the launching, members of Clark's family told the newspaper that watching the shuttle take off had been nerve-racking because of the memory of the Challenger disaster.
"Anyone who has watched Challenger can't even hardly bear" seeing the Columbia reach the point during take off where the Challenger exploded, Clark's brother, Jon Salton told the newspaper. "After that point, you can relax."
The other three astronauts were William C. McCool, the pilot, who was a 41-year-old Navy commander from Lubbock, Texas. McCool, who was married with three sons, was on his first space flight. In 1983, he graduated second in his Naval Academy class and had gone on to become a test pilot.
The flight's payload commander, Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson, was selected for the NASA space program in 1994, one of only a few black astronauts. Anderson, 43, from Spokane, Wash., was the son of an Air Force officer who grew up hopping between military bases. In 1998, he went on a mission to Russia's Mir space station. On the Columbia flight, he was overseeing many of the 80 science experiments.
The seventh astronaut was Dr. David Brown, 46, a Navy captain and pilot, who was also on his first space flight. He joined the Navy after a medical internship and became an astronaut in 1996.

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