Laurel Clark was a diving medical officer aboard submarines and then a flight surgeon before she became an astronaut in 1996. She had been on board Columbia to help with more than 80 science experiments.
"She was doing something that she cared deeply about, that she was very good at," said her father, Robert Salton, 69, of Albuquerque, N.M. In fact, he said, "she was pretty good at everything."
The 41-year-old was married with an 8-year-old son and lived in Racine, Wis.
Clark "had done something in a world usually reserved for men and she was pleased at the opportunity," said her aunt, Betty Haviland, of Ames, Iowa.
Clark knew space flight remained risky. "There's a lot of different things that we do during life that could potentially harm us and I choose not to stop doing those things," she said.
Clark joined the Navy to pay her way through medical school and begin looking toward the space program as her military career drew to a close, Salton said. Clark joined NASA in 1996 and earned a flight assignment as a mission specialist after two years.
Before Columbia's launch, Clark said her family, including son Ian, sometimes worried about her being an astronaut.
"To me, there's a lot of different things that we do during life that could potentially harm us, and I choose not to stop doing those things," Clark said. "They've all come to accept that it's what I want to do."
Clark's family already had been wracked by national tragedy: Timothy Haviland, her cousin and Haviland's son, died in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Dan Salton received an e-mail from his sister Friday about how much she was enjoying her experience aboard the shuttle.
"She loved it," he said. "I'm just so glad she got to get up to space and got to see it because that had been a dream for a long time."
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press