Rona Ramon, the wife of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, described the scene at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as family members awaited the return of the crew from their 16-day mission.
“Just like at the liftoff, we counted back from 10 but we got to zero and nothing. No sign. The shuttle wasn’t drawing near nor did we hear the sonic booms that we knew would be heard before the landing. There was an odd, terrible quiet.”
Ilan Ramon, the son of a holocaust survivor, was a colonel in the Israeli Air Force who had taken part in a daring raid on an Iraqi nuclear facility in 1981. He was considered a national hero and a positive symbol in his conflict-torn native country. Ramon was 48 years old and a father of four.
Residents of Karnal, India are also mourning their hometown hero, Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla. In a land where few women have an opportunity for education, Chawla emerged as a brilliant exception, earning a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College, a master’s degree from the University of Texas and a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado. Residents of her native village recalled her as a tomboy who fell in love with the idea of flying.
“She was the only Indian woman to travel into space, a national hero who inspired 1,500 boys and girls from Karnal to run through her hometown with crowns that read, ‘Kalpana is our pride’ and ‘Kalpana is our golden girl,'” the Washington Post reported.
People in Karnal are holding services in Chawla’s honor, praying and singing hymns. Chawla was 41 years old. She is survived by her husband Jean-Pierre Harrison.
In Houston, mourners gathered at a church that was attended by Payload Commander Michael Anderson and Mission Commander Rick Husband.
An Air Force Lt. Colonel and pilot, Anderson grew up in Washington State. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1981 with a degree in physics and astronomy and joined the Air Force. In 1990, he earned a master’s degree in physics from Creighton University.
Anderson, an African American, was considered a role model for minority children. He frequently gave presentations at schools in Washington, telling children they could accomplish their dreams.
Anderson had an expansive view of the space program, which he joined in 1994. The Washington Post reported that he once told elementary school students “Someday people will land on Mars. I’ll probably be too old by then, but you guys will be just about the right age.”
Michael Anderson was 43 years old. He and his wife, Sandra, were the parents of two daughters.
Commander Rick Husband attended the Grace Community Church with Anderson where he sang both with the choir and solo.
“The Sunday before the mission began, Mr. Husband, Mr. Anderson and their families stood near the altar as the congregation prayed for their safety. Just a few weeks later, they prayed again, this time for two souls,” the New York Times reported.
Husband, 45, was a colonel and test pilot in the Air Force before joining NASA in 1994. He earned a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Texas Tech University in 1980 and a master of science in mechanical engineering from California State University-Fresno in 1990. Husband had worn a Fresno State sweatshirt on the mission. He planned to present the shirt to the school when he returned.
A native of Amarillo, Texas, Husband said that he had wanted to be an astronaut from the time he was four years old, when he saw the images of the United States’ first manned space project, the Mercury program.
Husband, a devout Christian, actively served in his church and felt a spiritual dimension in the highly technical world of space travel.
“I look out that window at what a beautiful creation God has made,” he once told the Fresno Bee.
A similar scene of a congregation mourning the fall of one of their own unfolded in Racine, Wis., the place Mission Specialist Laurel Clark called home. Members of the Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church lit candles in her memory.
Clark, a medical doctor and Navy flight surgeon, earned a bachelor of science degree in zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1983 and a doctorate in medicine from the same school in 1987. Clark was selected by NASA in 1996 and was making her first flight into space.
Clark said she was captivated by the scenes that unfolded from orbit, especially sunrises.
“There’s a flash — the whole payload bay turns this rosy pink,” she said according to the Washington Post. “It only lasts about 15 seconds and then it’s gone. It’s very ethereal and extremely beautiful.”
Clark’s friends and family remembered her as a serious scientist and straight-A student who also loved to have fun. She carried a piece of paper bearing the photographs and fingerprints of all of her 8-year-old son’s classmates on the mission.
Clark is survived by her husband Jonathan and son Ian.
Like Clark, shuttle Pilot William “Willie” McCool was also about to complete his first journey into space when disaster struck. McCool, 41, was a commander and test pilot in the Navy.
McCool, the son of a Marine aviator, grew up at various military postings and graduated high school in Lubbock, Tex.
He graduated second in his class from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983, earned a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Maryland in 1985 and received a master of science in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1992.
McCool was known at the academy as both an outstanding student and accomplished athlete; he was captain of the highly-successful cross country team. His success, however, was tempered by humility.
“He never looked down on people and never treated people like he was smarter than they, even though he was smarter than 95 percent of anyone he met. Willie got to the top because he deserved it,” Annapolis classmate Mark Newman told the Washington Post.
McCool was one of the most successful pilots of the class of 1983 and the only astronaut. He and his wife were the parents of three sons.
Mission Specialist David M. Brown, 46, was also a naval aviator and flight surgeon. The Arlington, Va. native earned bachelor of science in biology from the College of William and Mary in 1978 and a doctorate in medicine from Eastern Virginia Medical School in 1982.
A childhood friend, Steve Wilbur, remembered Brown’s love of flight and space.
“He was always interested in flying. He had a telescope, and we’d go out and look at the stars in the back yard. He always liked airplanes. We’d make model planes and fly them at the elementary school,” Wilbur told the Washington Post.
Brown’s mother remembers him working two jobs and taking flying lessons while attending William and Mary.
Brown spoke at a convocation ceremony at William and Mary last fall. He explained to the students that NASA projected that one out of every 200 or 300 launches would result in the loss of the craft and crew, but insisted that the risk was acceptable considering the importance of the venture. He encouraged the students to latch on to a “big vision.”
“I can tell you, as a guy who stands here, that I do have a vision,” Brown said. “I want to do scientific research off of the planet. I want to do that with international partners, the largest among them the Russians, who were my enemies when I joined the Navy. And the last thing I want to do, I can tell you, is that I would like to go to Mars. … I can tell you though that the vision of going to Mars — I hate to say this — will probably be beyond my career, so that one is available to someone who would like to pick it up. If it is not someone in this group, it will be someone in your peer group. That one is available.”
President and Mrs. Bush will join NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe Tuesday afternoon in a tribute to Columbia’s crew during a special memorial service Tuesday afternoon at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston.