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Crew of Space Shuttle Columbia Remembered

Aired February 2, 2003 - 10:30   ET


BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The crew of the space shuttle Columbia remembered. Among them, the commander who always dreamed of being an astronaut, the U.S. Navy pilot who once performed as a circus acrobat, the Israeli, whose mother and grandmother survived a Nazi concentration camp, the first Indian-born woman in space. The personal stories of the seven men and women who lost their lives aboard the space shuttle Columbia on a special PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): They were astronauts, scientists, explorers. Five men and two women who had ridden a trail of light into the sky, some veterans of space, others making their first journey. For 16 days the crew of the shuttle Columbia soared above us, studying, learning, yearning to improve life on earth from the heavens above. But minutes from their return, the skies over Texas turned tragic.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These astronauts knew the dangers, and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life. Because of their courage and daring and idealism, we will miss them all the more.

BURKHARDT: Seven astronauts, six Americans, one Israeli, men and women dedicated to exploration.

RICK HUSBAND, COMMANDER: We have booster ignition and liftoff of space shuttle Columbia...

BURKHARDT: He was fulfilling the dream of a lifetime.

HUSBAND: From the time I was about 4 years old, I wanted to be an astronaut.

BURKHARDT: For shuttle commander, Rick Douglas Husband, space exploration wasn't a job, it was a passion.

HUSBAND: It's a whole lot better to have a mission in front of you that you're anticipating and preparing for than to have just flown your mission looking back and thinking, oh, how long is it going to be before I have to wait to get assigned to another mission again?

BURKHARDT: The Air Force colonel had gotten that chance before. In 1999, he piloted shuttle Discovery on the first docking with the International Space Station. But for Husband, that ten-day flight was too short.

HUSBAND: When it was time to come home, we knew the mission was complete but we would have loved to have stayed up there for a few extra days.

We're now in the approach phase, everything looking good.

BURKHARDT: Forty-five-year-old Rick Husband grew up with the space program.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I can see is spectacular.

HUSBAND: Watching the moon landings and everything, it was just so incredibly adventurous and exciting to me that I just thought there's no doubt in my mind that that's what I want do when I grow up.

BURKHARDT: Husband pursued his dream after graduating from Texas Tech University in 1980. After receiving his Masters Degree in mechanical engineering from Fresno State, he joined the Air Force. He quickly became an instructor and test pilot. He later spent time as a pilot on an exchange program with the Royal Air Force. Husband was ready to become an astronaut, but NASA was not ready for him.

HUSBAND: I applied four different times. You can't take no for an answer if it's something that you're really that interested in. And you've got to exhaust every possible avenue that you can if there's something that you really want to do.

BURKHARDT: His persistence paid off. Finally, in 1994, he was selected as an astronaut. He began training and five years later he achieved his life-long dream, a mission into space. Husband later told a group of students he had no fear.

HUSBAND: Am I nervous or afraid about going up into space? I'm not afraid to go up into space. I'm really looking forward to it. It's something I've wanted to do all my life. I'm sure that when the time comes that my heart will be beating a little faster, you know, because when you feel the main engines light off and then, the solid rocket boosters ignite, you know, it's very exciting.

BURKHARDT: Husband was even more excited when he was promoted to shuttle commander for the 2003 Columbia flight.

HUSBAND: It's certainly a humbling experience when you realize how many people work to put together a space mission like this. It's a great honor to be part of that process.

BURKHARDT: But the NASA veteran was aware of the dangers.

HUSBAND: The nature of what we do has a certain level of risk associated with it. Whenever we launch, the amount of energy that's being expended during the launch and assent is mind-boggling.

BURKHARDT: Just days ago on the 17th anniversary of the Challenger explosion, Husband paid tribute to the crew.

HUSBAND: They made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives and service to their country and for all mankind.

BURKHARDT: Columbia Commander Rick Douglas Husband would do the same. The dedicated family man leaves behind a wife and two children.

HUSBAND: Apart from NASA, the most enjoyable part of my life has been my time with my family. And if you think about the exciting or memorable events, I would say probably our -- my marriage and then the birth of our two children.




BURKHARDT (voice-over): When David Brown was a boy; flying in space was beyond imagination.

DAVID BROWN, MISSION SPECIALIST: I absolutely couldn't identify with the people who were astronauts. I thought they were movie stars and I just thought I was kind of a normal kid. And so I couldn't see a path, how a normal kid could ever get to be one of these people.

BURKHARDT: Brown did find the right path, but it took some interesting turns along the way. From high school honor student to Navy doctor, the Arlington, Virginia native, always excelled in classroom, but he had other interests as well.

In college at William & Mary, Brown competed in gymnastics, but he also performed with the circus, swinging from a trapeze, walking on stilts and riding a seven-foot unicycle. He later drove more sophisticated machines. Four years into his naval career, Brown was ordered to flight school, a very unusual billet for a Navy doctor. He graduated first in his class. He flew fighters and attack planes, then returned to the Navy's medical corps. With experience in aviation and medicine, Brown realized maybe he could relate to those who fly in space.

BROWN: Then I really thought, well maybe I would have some skills and background that NASA might be interested in, and then I went ahead and applied.

BURKHARDT: Brown became an astronaut in 1996. Before the 46- year-old took off for his first and only flight, he remembered a piece of advice from John Glenn.

BROWN: He said, "You know when you get up there, you need to make sure you look out the window." When you look at earth invariably people say that they think about people and they invariably say they think about the people that they kind of know and care about.

BURKHARDT: One of those people Brown cared about says she understands why her son wanted to join the shuttle program

DOROTHY BROWN, DAVID BROWN'S MOTHER: We are a nation of explorers. We have always -- that's why this great nation has come to what it is and the space program will go on too, for that reason.

BURKHARDT: Forty-one-year-old astronaut, Laurel Clark, was also an explorer. She enjoyed parachuting and scuba diving.

DANIEL SALTON, LAUREL CLARK'S BROTHER: She was a person who was very goal-oriented and that's where she got where she was.

BURKHARDT: Like David Brown, she was a Navy doctor who exhibited guts as well as brains. While serving in Scotland, she dove with Navy SEALS performing medical evacuations from submarines.

LAUREL CLARK, MISSION SPECIALIST: Well, good morning, Houston.

BURKHARDT: She had a gleeful response for the wakeup call on reentry morning.

CLARK: Hearing that song reminds me of all the different places down on earth and all the friends and family that I have all over the world.

BURKHARDT: Clark was an adventurer, but she was also a wife and mother to an 8-year-old boy.

SALTON: She loved kids. We all are very concerned about her son, Ian, and how he'll pull through this.

BURKHARDT: Clark's family had already dealt with one high high- profile tragedy. Her cousin died in the September 11 World Trade Center attack, but Clark was never deterred. She was a flight surgeon, a specialist in submarine medicine and pediatrician, a woman in control.

CLARK: I'm expecting to have a lot of fun. I'm expecting to be tired at the end. But I'm expecting it to be an experience of my -- experience of my lifetime so far.

BURKHARDT: Clark became an astronaut in 1996. This was her only mission.

SALTON: She died after she got to see what she had been dreaming for. For years now, she had been working towards that goal of getting up there. And I'm thankful she at least got to do that.

BURKHARDT: You could say flying was in 41-year-old shuttle pilot, William McCool's blood.

WILLIAM MCCOOL, PILOT: My father, prior military Marine and naval aviator, had a big influence, I think, on me. So I had this natural inclination for flying.

BURKHARDT: Willie, as he liked to be called, always wanted to be a pilot. The Eagle Scout graduated second in his class of more than 1,000 students at that time U.S. Naval Academy and went on to get three science degrees. As a Navy commander, he logged more than 2,800 hours of flying in 24 different aircraft. But he did not think about becoming an astronaut until he was in his 30s. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: William or Willie McCool is our pilot...

BURKHARDT: Then, in 1996, he was accepted into NASA's astronaut training program, along with future Columbia crewmates David Brown and Laurel Clark. After two years of training, McCool made the cut. He was selected for this mission to help maneuver the shuttle during its various science experiments. But the married father of three said the personal bonds that developed among the crew were, in a way, as important to him as the mission itself.

MCCOOL: We have such a new and young crew and we worked together for so long, that the relationship is just -- it's something you don't quite understand and you never really will understand until you get assigned to a flight. I think it's the part of the memory that you're going to keep more than anything else.

BURKHARDT: With one successful space mission under his belt already, 43-year-old Michael Anderson was one of the veterans on the shuttle.

MICHAEL ANDERSON, PAYLOAD COMMANDER: We have four rookies, first time flyers and three one-time flyers. So as you can see, compared to the average shuttle crew today, we're a very inexperienced crew. So knowing that, we've gone to great lengths to make sure that our inexperience isn't something that's going to hamper us. We've worked closely, worked hard together over the last two years to make this mission a success.

BURKHARDT: Born in Plattsburgh, New York, Anderson grew up on military bases while his father was in the Air Force. He pictured himself as an astronaut from the time he was young.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what he's dreamed of doing it most of his life. That's what he set his goals to do. That's what he sacrificed to do. And that's what he did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Anderson?

BURKHARDT: In 1994, he made his dream a reality when he became one of the few African-Americans accepted into NASA's astronaut training program. On his first mission, Anderson spent more than eight days in space transferring scientific equipment and water from the shuttle Endeavor to the Russian space station Mir.

On this current mission he served as payload commander, in charge of all the science experiments, including one that involved growing prostate cancer cells. Anderson said he hoped that experiment would yield information that would improve treatment for the disease, which has a high rate among African-Americans.

ANDERSON: Scientists and engineers have done a miraculous job in putting together what I think is one of the greatest compliment of scientific investigations ever to fly aboard the space shuttle. And it's just -- it's exciting to be part of it.

BURKHARDT: Relatives say despite hardship, Anderson worked throughout his career to serve his country with pride.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The United States of America has many, many problems. Racism is one of the major problems, whether people want to realize that and acknowledge it or not. But, only in America could he have achieved what he did achieve.




BURKHARDT (voice-over): In her native India, Kalpana Chawla became a national hero.

KALPANA CHAWLA, MISSION SPECIALIST: Hello, Mr. Prime Minister. I read you loud and clear. Happy birthday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kalpana, we are proud of you. Each one of us in India is proud of you. We all take so much pride in you and are excited about you.

CHAWLA: It's very special feeling. It's very much like a storybook.

BURKHARDT: The first female Indian-born astronaut was passionate about her life's work.

CHAWLA: I look forward to it. To me, I guess because I'm the flight engineer and my background is in aircraft systems. And that is something I have loved since I was 14, 15. I have lived my life for that in some sense.

SANYOGITA CHAWLA, KALPANA CHAWLA'S MOTHER (through translator): We never thought she would attain such heights. Maximum, we thought that she would end up getting a job, but she had this determination.

BURKHARDT: Chawla was born in 1961 in Karnal, India, a small market town north of Delhi. As a girl, her family said she dreamed of flying, drawing airplanes instead of animals.

A top student, she was the only woman in her aeronautics class at Punjab Engineering College. Chawla graduated in 1982. With her family's support, she moved to the United States, earning advanced degrees from the University of Texas and University of Colorado. And she became a U.S. citizen.

NASA selected Chawla for the astronaut program in 1994 and she flew her first mission three years later. It did not go smoothly. A robotic arm operated by Chawla sent a satellite spinning out of control. It took a risky space walk to retrieve it, but NASA did not place the blame on Chawla. And she returned to space as mission specialist on this latest shuttle flight.

CHAWLA: I think the world over, what NASA does, this whole thing about going into space, it is just totally awe-inspiring. You know, people are just awestruck, you know, like, wow! There is this country called America and they have this space program. What comes out of it in terms of inspiration and a general feeling towards America that it's a -- the great country that does all these very magnificent things.

BURKHARDT: A hero, in both her adopted country and her homeland.

Ilan Ramon journeyed into space with the dreams of a child, dreams, which were put down on paper more than half a century ago. He carried a picture sketched by a 14-year-old boy named Peter who had died at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp during World War II.

ILAN RAMON, PAYLOAD SPECIALIST: He was interested in science and in writing and in painting. And he drew at that time, as he visioned earth would look like from the moon. And I will take it with me.

BURKHARDT: Ramon also carried the dreams of a nation, as he became Israel's first astronaut. Born in Tel Aviv in 1954, his mother and grandmother survived Auschwitz. His father fought in the Israeli War for independence.

RAMON: I was born in Israel. And I'm kind of the proof for them that -- and for the whole Israeli people, that whatever we fought for and we've been going through in the last century or maybe in the last 2,000 years is becoming true.

BURKHARDT: Ramon himself fought in the Arab-Israeli War in 1973 and in Lebanon in 1982. He was a fighter pilot and a colonel in the Israeli air force, logging over 3,000 flight hours. He also took part in Israel's 1981 bombing of an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor. In 1997, Ramon was selected in the space program as a payload specialist.

RAMON: As you can image, it's great. I mean I was out of my mind, seeing and imagining how earth would look like from space and it was really great. I was maybe the happiest person at that time.

BURKHARDT: Though he said he wasn't particularly religious, Ramon requested a kosher diet during the flight saying it was an obligation to the Jewish people. And he hoped his scientific experiments would make an impact on the entire Middle East by studying how dust and the earth's atmosphere affects rainfall and temperature.

RAMON: And hopefully, in better understanding the causes of warm climate and maybe better understanding how clouds are being made of, we will be able to get some more water in the Middle East.

BURKHARDT: The 48-year-old Ramon was married and the father of four. He had been in contact with his family during Columbia's mission even fulfilling his children's request during a video conference call to do some somersaults. He had also spoke within Holocaust survivors prior to his mission and understood what his journey meant to his nation.

RAMON: When you talk to these people who are pretty old today, and you tell them that you're going to be in space as an Israeli astronaut, they look at you as a dream that they could have never dreamed of. So it's very exciting for me to be able to fulfill their dream that they wouldn't dare to dream.

BUSH: The same creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to earth, but we can pray that all are safely home.



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