Ten years ago today, the world witnessed a disaster when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on reentry after a successful mission, killing the seven astronauts aboard. It was a shocking tragedy, leaving us to mourn yet another shuttle crew as we did in 1986 after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after lift-off.
Today, we pay tribute to the crew of Columbia, seven astronauts from the United States and Israel – seven heroes gone too soon.
Official crew photo from mission STS-107 on the Space Shuttle Columbia. From left to right are mission specialist David Brown, commander Rick Husband, mission specialist Laurel Clark, mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist Michael Anderson, pilot William McCool, and Israeli payload specialist Ilan Ramon. (Wikimedia Commons/NASA)
Commander Rick Husband, 45, was a Texan on his second trip to space. Before his first flight, a 1999 mission aboard Discovery that included the first docking with the International Space Station, he remembered what it was that drew him to NASA: "It [space] was just so incredibly adventurous and exciting to me. I just thought there was no doubt in my mind that is what I want to do when I grow up."
Pilot William McCool, 41, a California native, was finishing his first space mission when Columbia disintegrated. A U.S. Navy commander before joining NASA, he brought music to the shuttle: his favorite song, John Lennon's "Imagine," was played during the mission, and "Fake Plastic Trees" by his favorite band, Radiohead, was played by mission control as a wake-up call.
Mission Specialist David Brown, 46, was a flight surgeon with the U.S. Navy before being selected by NASA – one of an elite few flight surgeons also chosen for pilot training. After the Columbia disaster – his first spaceflight – the native Virginian became the first person ever to be posthumously awarded the College of William & Mary Alumni Association's Alumni Medal.
Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla, 41, was the first Indian-American astronaut and the first Indian woman in space. This was her second mission aboard Columbia. On her first flight, she had been responsible for deploying the Spartan Satellite. Chawla noted that while traveling in space, where your body is weightless, "You are just your intelligence."
Payload Commander Michael Anderson, 43, was a pilot and instructor with the U.S. Air Force before joining NASA. On his previous spaceflight on Endeavor, he had been part of a docking mission with Mir. As he prepared to go on his second spaceflight, the New York native explained what drove him (and so many others) toward space: "There's always that unknown."
Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, 48, made history on Columbia by becoming the first Israeli astronaut in space. A fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force, he had thousands of hours of flight experience. While aboard Columbia, Ramon kept a journal that miraculously survived the crash nearly intact and was later recovered. One of Ramon's final writings, on the last day of the mission, was "Today was the first day that I felt that I am truly living in space. I have become a man who lives and works in space."
Mission Specialist Laurel Clark, 41, was an Iowan on her first spaceflight. Prior to joining NASA, she was a U.S. Navy flight surgeon trained in responding to the unique medical situations experienced by a submarine crew. An avid gardener, Clark once noted of her rose bushes, "Life continues in lots of places – and life is a magical thing."
Written by Linnea Crowther