Profiles of the Columbia Astronauts

Updated May 8, 2019 | Infoplease Staff

by Borgna Brunner and Erin Martin
The crew of the Columbia STS-107

Space Shuttle Columbia crew, from left to right, David M. Brown, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael P. Anderson, William McCool, and Ilan Ramon

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On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it tried to reenter the Earth's atmosphere after a sixteen-day mission in space. All seven members of the crew were lost. The mission was focused on a broad range of science experiments. The remarkable crew—six Americans, one Israeli; three seasoned astronauts, four on their first space flight; an African-American and the first Indian-American astronaut, scientists, surgeons, a fighter pilot—are profiled below.

Michael P. Anderson

Lt. Colonel, U.S. Air Force
Payload Commander

Dec. 25, 1959–Feb. 1, 2003

Birthplace: Plattsburgh, New York
Age: 43
Education: B.S., University of Washington, physics and astronomy, 1981; M.S., Creighton University, physics, 1990

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Anderson grew up in a military family. In 1971 he moved from Plattsburgh, New York, to Spokane, Washington, when his father was assigned to the Fairchild Air Force Base. After graduating from college, Anderson became a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force where he logged over 3,000 hours as a pilot. Chosen by NASA to enter its astronaut training program in 1994, Anderson trained to be a mission specialist and a payload commander. In 1998, Anderson became the payload commander on the shuttle Endeavor, which resupplied the Mir space station. Anderson, who is one of 14 African-American astronauts selected by NASA, was responsible for carrying out more than 100 science experiments on the Columbia. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.

David M. Brown

Captain, U.S. Navy
Mission Specialist

April 16, 1956–Feb. 1, 2003

Birthplace: Arlington, Virginia
Age: 46
Education: B.S., College of William and Mary, biology, 1978; M.D. Eastern Virginia Medical School, 1982

Captain David M. Brown grew up in Arlington, Virginia. After medical school, Brown joined the Navy as a flight surgeon. He was selected for pilot training in 1988, becoming the first Navy physician chosen in ten years to enter the program. In 1990 he became a naval aviator, ranking first in his class. Captain Brown was selected by NASA as an astronaut in 1996. He served as a mission specialist aboard Columbia, conducting biological experiments. Before entering medical school, he had a brief but colorful career in the circus, working as an acrobat and stilt walker.

Kalpana Chawla

Mission Specialist
July 1, 1961–Feb. 1, 2003

Birthplace: Karnal, India
Age: 41
Education: B.S., Punjab Engineering College, India, aeronautical engineering, 1982; M.S., University of Texas, aerospace engineering, 1984; Ph.D, University of Colorado, aerospace engineering, 1988

Kalpana Chawla grew up in the Punjab region of northern India where she excelled in science. Chawla came to the United States to study aerospace engineering and joined NASA in 1995 after gaining her U.S. citizenship. At the Johnson Space Center, Chawla studied to be a mission specialist. In 1997, as a member of Columbia, flight STS-87, she became the first Indian-American woman in space. She was in charge of operating the shuttle's robotic arm. As a mission specialist on Columbia, Chawla carried out numerous science experiments. She is survived by her husband.

Laurel Blair Salton Clark

Commander (Captain-Select), U.S. Navy
Mission Specialist

Oct. 3, 1961–Feb. 1, 2003

Birthplace: Ames, Iowa
Age: 41
Education: B.S., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1983, zoology; M.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1987

Commander Laurel Clark grew up in Racine, Wisc. After medical school, Clark joined the Navy and specialized in undersea medicine. She served as a radiation health officer, an undersea medical officer, a diving medical officer, and a submarine medical officer. She then trained to become a naval flight surgeon. In 1996 she was selected for the NASA space program. One of two women aboard the space shuttle Columbia, Dr. Clark served as a mission specialist, responsible for a variety of medical experiments, including the effects of gravity on the heart and lungs. She is survived by her husband and a child.

Rick D. Husband

Colonel, U.S. Air Force
Shuttle Commander

July 12, 1957–Feb. 1, 2003

Birthplace: Amarillo, Texas.
Age: 45
Education: B.S., Texas Tech University, mechanical engineering, 1980; M.S., California State University, Fresno, mechanical engineering, 1990

A native of Amarillo, Texas, Husband learned to fly at 18, eventually becoming an Air Force test pilot. He was selected for the NASA space program in 1994, and undertook his first space flight in 1999, serving as the pilot of the space shuttle Discovery. During its ten-day mission, the Discovery made the first docking at the International Space Station, preparing it for the arrival of the first resident crew. Husband then served as Chief of Safety for the Astronaut Office before becoming the mission commander for the space shuttle Columbia. He is survived by his wife and two children.

William "Willie" McCool

Commander, U.S. Navy
Shuttle Pilot

Sept. 23, 1961–Feb. 1, 2003

Birthplace: San Diego, California
Age: 41
Education: B.S., US Naval Academy, applied science, 1983; M.S., University of Maryland, computer science, 1985; M.S., U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, aeronautical engineering, 1992

A native of Lubbock, Texas, Eagle Scout William "Willie" McCool's father was a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy. After graduating second in his U.S. Naval Academy class, McCool trained to be a Navy test pilot. Logging over 2,800 flight hours in 24 aircraft, McCool made 400 successful aircraft carrier landings. McCool was chosen by NASA in 1996 and trained to be a shuttle pilot. This was his first shuttle assignment. He is survived by his wife and three children.

Ilan Ramon

Colonel, Israeli Air Force
Payload Specialist

June 20, 1954–Feb. 1, 2003

Born: Tel Aviv, Israel
Age: 48
Education: B.S., University of Tel Aviv, electronics and computer engineering, 1987

After high school in Tel Aviv, Israel, Ilan Ramon trained in the Israeli Air Force. He fought in the Yom Kippur war of 1973 and later served in the Lebanon conflict in 1982. He became an Israeli air force colonel and was later accepted into NASA's astronaut program as a payload specialist. One of his experiments involved collecting images of dust storms and monitoring their effect on climate. Col. Ramon became the first citizen of Israel to enter space. The son of a holocaust survivor, Ramon brought a drawing by a 14-year-old killed in a Nazi concentration camp with him into space. The boy's drawing was called "Moon Landscape." He is survived by his wife and four children.

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