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Columbia Space Shuttle Crewlocked

  • Roger D. Launius

Columbia Space Shuttle Crew.

(Clockwise from left)Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Ilan Ramon, Laurel B. Clark, and Rick D. Husband, 24 January 2003.

Courtesy of AP Images.

Columbia Space Shuttle Crew, astronauts, refers to seven who died over Texas with the breakup of their spacecraft, the Space Shuttle Columbia, at 9:00:18 A.M. eastern standard time on 1 February 2003 during reentry into the atmosphere prior to landing at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The mission, STS‐107, had launched on 16 January and had undertaken multidisciplinary international scientific research and experiments. The crew members of the Columbia represented a cross‐section of the U.S. population in terms of race, gender, geography, background, and religion and included the first Israeli astronaut.

Richard Douglas “Rick” Husband (12 July 1957-1 Feb. 2003), mission commander, born in Amarillo, Texas, the son of Douglas and Jane Husband, decided to try to become an astronaut when he witnessed the first Moon landing in 1969. He graduated from Amarillo High School in 1975 and then went on to earn a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Texas Tech University in 1980. After graduation he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force and went on to fly F‐4 and F‐15 fighters. He also graduated from the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California and completed a master's degree in mechanical engineering from California State University, Fresno, in 1990. He ultimately had the rank of colonel in the Air Force.

It took Husband quite a while to achieve his youthful goal. He applied to become an astronaut four times, reaching the interview stage twice, before NASA selected him as an astronaut candidate in December 1994. After a year of general training Husband took up duties as the Astronaut Office's representative on Space Shuttle upgrades, the Crew Return Vehicle (CRV) planned for the International Space Station, and engineering studies on a return to the Moon. In that capacity he worked on the control system of the CRV and on habitats for lunar exploration. After five years he made his first flight into space, as pilot for STS‐96 on Discovery, 27 May–6 June 1999. During this mission Discovery became the first space shuttle to dock with the nascent International Space Station. In 1982 Husband married his high school sweetheart, Evelyn Husband; they had two children.

William Cameron McCool (23 Sept. 1961-1 Feb. 2003), pilot of the Columbia mission, was born in San Diego, California, the son of Barent “Barry” McCool, a U.S. Navy pilot, and Audrey, who served in the Army Reserve and later worked as professor of Hotel Administration at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Willie,” as he was called throughout his life, moved as a child to Lubbock, Texas, where he graduated from Coronado High School in 1979; he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983. He also completed an M.S. degree in computer science at the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1985 and a second M.S. in aeronautical engineering at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1992. McCool began his flying career with the Navy in 1986 and eventually gained ratings for twenty‐four different aircraft. In all he made more than four hundred carrier landings and had more than 2,800 hours of flight time, and he reached the rank of commander. Selected by NASA as an astronaut in April 1996, McCool was a rookie on the STS‐107 mission. An avid outdoorsman, McCool was always ready for any endurance test, whether it included hiking, running, swimming, or undertaking back‐country camping. He also played the guitar and chess and was competitive in both. He married Atilana “Lani” R. Vallejos of Guam in 1983; they had three sons.

Michael Phillip Anderson (25 Dec. 1959-1 Feb. 2003), payload commander, was born in Plattsburgh, New York, the son of Bobbie Anderson, an Air Force serviceman, and Barbara Anderson. In 1973 the family moved to Spokane, Washington, which he considered his home. After witnessing a Mercury mission at age four, he decided to become an astronaut. After graduating from high school in Cheney, Washington, in 1977, he completed a B.S. in physics and astronomy at the University of Washington in 1981. After graduation he entered the U.S. Air Force, and in 1990 while in the Air Force he earned an M.S. in physics from Creighton University. Eventually he served aboard the Air Force's airborne command post, called “Looking Glass,” and reached the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Selected as an astronaut candidate in December 1994—he was one of the few African American astronauts ever—Anderson first flew for STS‐89 aboard Endeavour, 22–31 January 1998, to dock Endeavour with the Russian space station Mir. Anderson had been responsible for overseeing more than eighty scientific experiments during the STS‐107 mission.

Anderson married Sandra Lynn Hawkins in 1985, a close friend whom he had known since Sunday school classes at the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Spokane, and they had two daughters. “Being the first African American astronaut on the Mir was something special to him,” his wife recalled. “He wanted to be the first man to go to Mars.” The couple had strong religious ideals. As his wife said to Ebony magazine in May 2003, “Our faith in the Lord has been our big sustainer. We talked before he did this space flight. We knew that there were risks involved, but we also knew if something happened [he would be with the Lord].”

David McDowell Brown (16 Apr. 1956-1 Feb. 2003), mission specialist and physician, was born in Arlington, Virginia, the son of Paul and Dorothy Brown. In 1974 he graduated from Arlington's Yorktown High School and then went on to the College of William and Mary, where he earned a B.S. in biology in 1978. He received his M.D. in 1982 from Eastern Virginia Medical School. After interning at the Medical University of South Carolina, Brown joined the U.S. Navy and in 1984 completed flight‐surgeon training. He then served in several positions, including deployment aboard the USS Carl Vinson in the western Pacific. In 1988 he entered flight school and gained a carrier qualification in 1990 for the A‐6E Intruder. NASA selected Brown, by then a captain in the Navy, as an astronaut candidate in April 1996. After completing two years of training and evaluation he was assigned to support payload development for the International Space Station. Even through he was a pilot for NASA, Brown regarded himself as a scientist‐astronaut. STS‐107 was his only spaceflight. He was unmarried.

Kalpana Chawla (1 July 1961-1 Feb 2003), mission specialist, was born in Karnal, India, the daughter of Banarsi Lal Chawla and Sanjogta Kharbanda. She graduated from the Tagore School in Karnal in 1976, graduating near the top of her class, and then earned a B.S. degree in aeronautical engineering at the Punjab Engineering College in 1982. She then went the United States for graduate school, a controversial decision for her family. Her father recalled that he did not want her to go to America, but after facing a revolt by his wife and other daughters he relented and put her on an airplane to Austin, Texas. She completed both an M.S. in aerospace engineering at the University of Texas, Arlington, in 1984 and a Ph.D. in the same field at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1988.

Immediately after finishing her Ph.D., Chawla began work at the NASA Ames Research Center, near San Francisco, on the subject of powered‐lift computational fluid dynamics. She focused on the simulation of complex air flows encountered by aircraft and later moved on to the mapping of flow solvers for parallel computers. She left NASA in 1993 to join Overset Methods in Los Altos, California, as vice president and research scientist. She returned to NASA as an astronaut candidate in the class of December 1994, and after initial training she served as a crew representative to work on extravehicular activity (EVA), computer, and robotics issues. Chawla's first flight into space was as a member of the crew of STS‐87 aboard Columbia, 19 November–5 December 1997, for which she was a mission specialist and operated the space shuttle's robotic arm.

Kalpana met and married the British‐born Jean‐Pierre Harrison in 1983 while they were both students at the University of Texas. Both became U.S. citizens in 1990.

Laurel Blair Salton Clark (10 Mar. 1961-1 Feb. 2003), physician, was born in Ames, Iowa, the daughter of Margory and Robert Salton. Her parents were divorced when she was a teenager. She grew up in New Mexico and Racine, Wisconsin, moving there in 1975 when her mother was remarried to a physician, Richard Brown; she considered Racine her home. She was educated in the public schools and from Racine traveled to the nearby University of Wisconsin at Madison to complete a B.S. in zoology in 1983 and an M.D. in 1987. She enlisted in the U.S. Navy after completing her B.S.; the Navy paid for her medical school. She became a flight surgeon and an undersea medical officer, dove with U.S. Navy divers and Naval Special Warfare Unit TWO SEALs, and performed numerous medical evacuations from U.S. submarines. Ultimately she earned the rank of captain.

In 1993 she married Jonathan Clark, also a navy commander and NASA flight surgeon, whom she had met at dive school; they had one son. Laurel Clark was selected as an astronaut candidate with the class of 1996. After a year's training Clark began work in the Astronaut Office's Payloads/Habitability Branch before entering training for STS‐107. It was her only spaceflight. Her husband recalled that Clark's favorite quotation highlighted the inherent risk of spaceflight, a risk that she was fully willing to accept: “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.”

Ilan Ramon (20 June 1954-1 Feb. 2003), payload specialist, was the only foreign national on the mission. He was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, the son of Eliezer and Tova Wolferman. His mother was a Holocaust survivor, and his father fought in Israel's war of independence. By all accounts Ramon took very seriously his role as the representative of Israel and the Jewish people in space. He graduated from the University of Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1987. Before and after college he was a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force; he fought in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and in operations in the 1980s, including the bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. Ultimately he had the rank of colonel. In 1980 Ramon married Rona; they had four children. Selected for astronaut training by NASA in 1997, Ramon began training for a mission on the space shuttle to test a multispectral camera for recording desert aerosol. STS‐107 was his only spaceflight. His selection to fly came as a result of an agreement between U.S. President Bill Clinton and the then Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Perez, for the two nations to cooperate on scientific endeavors.

On 26 August 2003 the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), under the leadership of the retired U.S. Navy admiral Harold L. Gehman, concluded that the accident was caused during launch when the external tank's foam insulation broke free and struck the leading edge of the shuttle's left wing, damaging the thermal protection system. So when the shuttle reentered Earth's atmosphere, superheated gases entered the wing structure and caused Columbia to break up. As one result of the accident, NASA was instructed to retire the Space Shuttle fleet by 2010.


Useful collections of biographical materials about the 2003 Columbia crew, including news clippings and obituaries, are in the NASA Historical Reference Collection, Washington, D.C., and at the Archives of the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Books dealing with the subject include Michael Cabbage and William Harwood, Comm Check … : The Final Flight of Shuttle “Columbia” (2004); Mark Cantrell and Donald Vaughan, Sixteen Minutes from Home: The Columbia Space Shuttle Tragedy (2003); Philip Chien, “Columbia,” Final Voyage: The Last Flight of NASA's First Space Shuttle (2006); Ben Evans, Space Shuttle “Columbia”: Her Missions and Crews (2005); U.S. Columbia Accident Investigation Board, Report (2003); Evelyn Husband, with Donna VanLiere, High Calling: The Courageous Life and Faith of Space Shuttle “Columbia” Commander Rick Husband (2003); and Phillip K. Tompkins and Emily V. Tompkins, Apollo, Challenger, Columbia: The Decline of the Space Program (2004).