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Columbia: the crew

'Because of their courage and daring and idealism, we will miss them all the more.' - President Bush

By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 2, 2003

Rick Husband, Commander: Born July 12, 1957 in Amarillo, Texas

The U.S. Air Force colonel and test pilot was flying into space for the second time, his first as the shuttle's commander. He was one of the few pilot astronauts promoted to mission commander after just one spaceflight, serving as co-pilot of a mid-1999 flight to the international space station aboard Discovery. He was married, and the father of two children.

"From the time I was about four years old, I wanted to be an astronaut. And it was about that time when the Mercury program started up. And so, I saw those things on the TV, and it just really excited me. It really grabbed my interest. And, seeing those rockets and learning about the astronauts, and seeing what they were doing, and then the models that came out in the stores and you could build the plastic models, and I remember building a Gemini model. I thought everything about that was so fascinating. And in following that all the way through, from Mercury to Gemini to Apollo, watching the moon landings and everything, it was just so incredibly adventurous and exciting to me that I just thought, 'There is no doubt in my mind that that's what I want to do when I grow up.' "

"While I was at school at Texas Tech was about the time that they were hiring the first bunch of shuttle astronauts. So I sent a letter off to NASA asking them what kind of requirements were necessary. I got a package back, and it told about the pilots and the mission specialists and the requirements. And so that kind of laid the pathway. So I joined the Air Force, went through pilot training, got to go fly fighters. . After Test Pilot School, finished a masters in engineering and started applying to the space program. I applied four times and interviewed two times, and then was hired after the second interview. So it was the achievement of a lifelong dream and a goal."

William McCool, Pilot: Born Sept. 23, 1961 in San Diego, Calif.

A Navy commander who grew up in Lubbock, Texas, he graduated second in his 1983 class at the Naval Academy, went on to test pilot school and became an astronaut in 1996. This was his first mission to space, but he was an experienced Navy pilot with more than 2,800 hours in flight. He was an avid chess player, and was known to play via e-mail with crew members of the international space station. He was married with three sons.

"My father, (a) Marine and Naval aviator, had a big influence on me in terms of just the natural progression. You finish high school, you go to college. I went to the Naval Academy; it just seemed the natural thing to do. And went on into Naval aviation in my father's footsteps. As a child he was a big advocate of building model airplanes and we flew RSC and control on aircraft. So I had this natural inclination for flying. I think it's something that subconsciously led me into an aviation career. And as my career progressed, things just worked out to lead me into the astronaut program. So I think parental influence is probably the biggest motivator that's led me to become an astronaut."

"My most enjoyable experience is . . . I really can't pinpoint one. But I can say as a category my most enjoyable experiences are going out with my wife and my boys back-country backpacking in the Olympic Mountains or the canyon lands in Utah and just enjoying life without outside distractions. Enjoying each other, and enjoying the environment. We love to do that frequently, whenever we can. Unfortunately, (I) don't get enough of it here recently with all the training. But those memories prevail. And they're something that I look forward to doing in the future when we get done with this mission."

Kalpana Chawla, Ph.D., Mission Specialist: Born July 1, 1961 in Karnal, India

After emigrating from India in the 1980s, Chawla wanted to design aircraft. But after working at NASA's Ames Research Center and Overset Methods Inc. in Northern California, she was chosen to be an astronaut. In 1997, she became the first native of India to fly on a space shuttle and the second to go to space. She was a hero in India, and one Indian news agency tracked Columbia's flight so it could tell readers the exact minute they could wave to the skies to hail their countrywoman. It was her second flight. Chawla, 41, was married.

"When I was going to high school back in India, I was very lucky that we lived in one of a handful of towns at that time which had flying clubs. And we would see these small Pushpak airplanes, which are not much different from Piper J3 Cubs that you see in the U.S. that students were flying as part of their training programs. Me and my brother, sometimes we would be on bikes looking up -- which you shouldn't be doing -- trying to see where these airplanes were headed. Every once in a while, we'd ask my dad if we could get a ride in one of these planes. And he did take us to the flying club and get us a ride in the Pushpak and a glider that the flying club had."

"I would say I've been inspired by explorers. At different times during my life I've read books -- more recently, say about Shackleton, the four or five books written by people in more recent times, and then during the expedition. And then some of the incredible feats these people carried out; like making (it) to the Pole almost, but making the wise decision to stop a hundred miles short and return. Lewis and Clark's incredible journey across America to find a route to water, if one existed. And the perseverance and incredible courage with which they carried it out."

Michael Anderson, Mission Specialist: Born December 25, 1959, in Plattsburgh, NY

The son of an Air Force man, he grew up on military bases and considered Spokane, Wash., his hometown. A lieutenant colonel, he was flying for the Air Force when NASA chose him for the shuttle in 1994. He was on the shuttle-Mir docking mission in 1998, when the crew transferred more than 9,000 pounds of scientific equipment and other hardware from the Endeavour to the Mir. Anderson, 43, was married.

"When you sit down and study the space shuttle and you get to know its systems, you realize this is a very complex vehicle. And even though we've gone to great pains to make it as safe as we can, there's always the potential for something to go wrong. So we try not to think about those things. We train and try to prepare for the things that may go wrong to do the best we can. But there's always that unknown. And I guess it's that unknown that I don't like."

"As a first-time space flier, everything you do on a flight is just miraculous. You just can't believe it's actually happening. And still to this day, when I think back to that flight, it's sort of like a dream. You just can't believe that actually happened. When we first saw the Mir space station, it looked like a star out there in the sky. But, as we continued to do our burns and get closer to the space station, it started to get bigger and bigger. And it wasn't long before you had this huge, massive complex, this huge space station just kind of taking up the entire window of the space shuttle. And your first thought was, 'You know, this isn't a simulation any more. I'm not in the domed simulator at the Johnson Space Center practicing this rendezvous like we did a million times before the flight. No, this is real. And in a matter of moments, we're actually going to dock.' It was just a tremendous experience to have a chance to do something like that. I think as long as I live, I'll never forget those moments. It was a truly miraculous time, and just a wonderful flight."

David Brown, Mission Specialist: Born April 16, 1956 in Arlington, Va.

The Navy captain had early training in dealing with zero-gravity from a strange source: the circus. In 1976, while on his college gymnastics team, he was asked to join the circus where he was an acrobat, tumbler, stilt walker and 7-foot unicycle rider. He was sent to a military hospital in Alaska, and then served on an aircraft carrier. In 1988, Brown was selected for pilot training, a rarity for Navy doctors. He graduated No. 1 in his naval aviation class. This was his first space mission. Brown, 46, was single.

"I think the best advice I have heard since I came to the Astronaut Office was something that I heard John Glenn say. He said, 'You know, when you get up there, you need to make sure you look out the window.' And as I thought about it, that's really what all the astronauts say. And when you look out the window, you're not looking at the stars or the moon. You're looking at the Earth. And, when you look at the Earth, invariably people say that they think about people. And, they invariably say they think about the people that they kind of know and care about."

"I get asked a lot, 'Did you want to be an astronaut when you grew up?' And I remember growing up thinking that astronauts and their job was the coolest thing you could possible do. I was a little bit late for Mercury, but I remember Gemini and Apollo quite well in the '60s, and then Skylab and early shuttle. But I absolutely couldn't identify with the people who were astronauts. I thought they were movie stars. And I just thought I was kind of a normal kid. And so I couldn't see a path, how a normal kid could ever get to be one of these people that I just couldn't identify with."

Laurel Clark, M.D., Mission Specialist: Born March 10, 1961 in Ames, Iowa

She conquered the sea, diving with the Navy Seals and conducting medical evacuations from submarines. She served as a flight surgeon for the Marines. Always up for a challenge, space was the logical next frontier. The Navy commander was always scuba diving or mountain biking, hiking or rock climbing or parachuting. In an e-mail message sent from the shuttle a few days ago, Clark marveled at the view of Wind Point, a peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan a few miles from her childhood home. Clark, 41, was married with one child.

"We did some training as a crew together with the National Outdoor Leadership School. And although we thought it would be a great opportunity to learn some things, I don't think any of us had any idea how many similarities there would be to the spaceflight. We were out in the wilderness for about 10 days. And we spent a whole lot of time together as a team solving problems. And without any other outside influences, which is similar to the way it'll be in space. So, there was some relative isolation. We didn't have cell phones or any other way to talk to anyone other than the crew. Obviously, because we're camping in a back-wood primitive area, you have to carry everything that you need on your back. You have to manage the stuff that you've got. You're constantly packing and unpacking, and making sure that you know where everything is. Up in space, everything floats. And if you aren't really careful about where you put things, before you know it, you won't know where your favorite pen is or where your toothbrush is. So, you have to really take care of yourself and all of your things."

"Motherhood's been incredible, and I tell my son all the time that my most important job is being his mother. But other than that, the eight years that I spent at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I have incredibly fond memories of. I did my undergraduate work there in zoology. And then followed it up with the four years in medical school. It's a beautiful place. And really wonderful people."

Ilan Ramon, Payload Specialist: Born June 20, 1954 in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The first Israeli in space was a veteran of the Yom Kippur War (1973) and Lebanon War (1982). In 1980, became one of first Israeli pilots training to fly F-16s. The colonel in the Israel Air Force carried a microfiche of the Bible given him by his country's president, a tiny Torah scroll given to a Holocaust survivor at a Nazi concentration camp and a small pencil drawing titled Moon Landscape by a boy killed at the Auschwitz camp. Ramon, 48, was married and had four children.

"When I was a kid, nobody in Israel ever dreamed -- well, I wouldn't say nobody -- but most of the people wouldn't dream of being an astronaut because it wasn't on the agenda. So I never thought I would've been an astronaut. I'm a pilot, a fighter pilot. And I love to fly! Flying aircrafts, fighter aircraft, is great. And I was very happy. I've never dreamed to be an astronaut. When I was selected, I really jumped almost to space."

"Well, I think it's very, very peculiar to be the first Israeli up in space. Especially because of my background. But my background is kind of a symbol of a lot of other Israelis' background. My mother is a Holocaust survivor. She was in Auschwitz. My father fought for the independence of Israel, not so long ago. I was born in Israel and I'm kind of the proof for them, and for the whole Israeli people, that whatever we fought for and we've been going through in the last century (or maybe in the last 2,000 years), is becoming true. And I was talking to a lot of Holocaust survivors. And when you talk to these people, and you tell them that you're going to be in space as an Israeli astronaut, they look at you as a dream that they could have never dreamed of. So, it's very exciting for me to be able to fulfill their dream that they wouldn't dare to dream."

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