In Their Words


February 03, 2003

They were hometown heroes, much-loved sons, daughters, husbands and wives. They lived lives on Earth and among the stars. They talked about the mundane and the magnificent, and people wanted to hear what they had to say.

Here is a look at the seven Columbia astronauts in their own words, as reported by wire services, television networks and their newspapers, both hometown and college.

Michael Anderson

Michael Anderson, 43, was the payload commander. He was flying for the Air Force when NASA chose him in 1994 as one of only a handful of black astronauts.

"I take the risk because I think what we're doing is really important. If you look at this research flight and if you really take an opportunity to look at each experiment ... the potential yield that we have is really tremendous," he said. "For me, it's the fact that what I'm doing can have great consequences and great benefits for everyone, for mankind."

He oversaw scientific experiments on the flight and told National Public Radio from space:

"So far, I have to tell you, we've been really pleased with what we're seeing. We're exceeding almost all of our expectations, and we're getting some really good science."

He also talked about the advances black astronauts are making, with three others expected to fly in missions.

"It looks like the future's really bright," Anderson told NPR.

Rick Husband

Rick Husband, 45, was an Air Force pilot and commander of the Columbia. He was a skier and cyclist, and when he wanted to find out if his diverse crew could get along under pressure, he decided to take them on an outdoor trip.

In August 2001, they spent 11 days camping in the mountains in Wyoming, carrying 75-pound packs and climbing the 13,000-foot Wind River Peak.

He spoke to CNN as the shuttle flew 150 miles above the Pacific Ocean at 17,300 mph.

"Well, things are going really great. We're having a great time up here. We had a great ride to orbit, and all the activation of the experiments and [everything] went extremely well. And we've really got our space legs up and running."

In an interview posted on the NASA Web site:

"You can't eliminate risk in anything you do," he said. "But what you try and do is you take a good, smart look at it and try to minimize those risks to maximize your chances for success."

David Brown

David Brown, 46, was a Navy captain, pilot and doctor who became an astronaut in 1996. A gymnast at and 1978 graduate of the College of William and Mary, he spoke to freshmen there in September. The college newspaper, The Flat Hat, reported:

"`The broad liberal arts scope prepares you to undertake almost anything. ... And when you're on the gymnastics team, you need to have a competitive streak with other people, but at the same time you should also be a team player.' ...

"Besides his collegiate athletic involvement, Brown was also a resident assistant and performed in the Circus Kingdom as an acrobat, 7-foot unicyclist and stilt walker. ... In addition to doing shows at Busch Gardens, the traveling performers also made excursions to almost every state in New England.

"`When I was a freshman, it was never in my mind that I would go to med school. It was never in my mind that I would land a jet on a ship. When I thought about being an astronaut, it was the coolest thing I could imagine, but I could not see the path for how I would do that.'

"`I didn't set any records [at the college]. I applied to Navy flight training. I was rejected. I reapplied. I got in. I applied to NASA. I was rejected. I reapplied. I got in. There's something to be said here about not being afraid to have vision, not being afraid to take risks and the real value of persistence.'"

In another interview, Brown was asked about the risks of space flight. "I made a decision that is part of my job, I would incur some real risk as a routine part of my job when I joined the Navy and started flying. ... The decision to go fly in space is just an extension of that."

Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla, 41, was on her second trip into space. Born in India, she emigrated to the United States in 1982 and became an American citizen.

An engineer, she was inspired to take up flying by J.R.D. Tata, who flew the first mail flights in India.

"When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land but from the solar system," she told India Today.

"It's like running a marathon race," she told News India-Times. "We train all hours of the day. When you are taking a bath, you are thinking of the flight. You wake up, you are thinking of a malfunction that could happen."

William McCool

William McCool, 41, was a Navy commander who graduated second in his 1983 class at the Naval Academy. He went on to test pilot school and became an astronaut in 1996. He was dazzled by the mission even though he had logged 2,800 hours in flight.

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