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Committed Christians, Israeli astronaut & heroine of India were aboard Columbia

DALLAS (BP)–Only three of Space Shuttle Columbia’s seven astronauts had flown in space before the fateful trip that ended with the explosion of the spacecraft upon reentry into the atmosphere about 200,000 feet above the Dallas-Fort Worth and north-central Texas region at approximately 9 a.m. Eastern time Feb. 1.

Commander Rick Husband and crew members Michael Anderson and Kalpana Chawla, a native of India, had flown in space before. The other four, pilot William McCool, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Israeli Ilan Ramon, were on their first space flights.

Shannon Lucid, a NASA biochemist who logged more time in space than any American in history, told Baptist Press Feb. 1 that because she is a NASA employee she is not permitted to speak about the shuttle tragedy, but she said that Husband was “a strong, committed Christian” who attended Grace Community Church in Houston.

Husband, 45, was an Air Force colonel from Amarillo, Texas, and was selected as an astronaut in 1994 on his fourth try.

“It’s been pretty much a lifelong dream and just a thrill to be able to get to actually live it out,” Husband said in an interview before Columbia’s launch, his second space flight, The Washington Post reported Feb. 1. His initial flight, in 1999, was the first shuttle mission to dock with the International Space Station. Husband had logged more than 235 hours in space.

Husband and his wife, Jane, had two children.

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, according to The Post.

Anderson, 43, the payload commander, was flying for the Air Force when NASA chose him in 1994 as one of only a handful of black astronauts, The Post reported. A fellow astronaut, Dave Leestma, identified Anderson as also a committed Christian and member of Grace Community Church.

Anderson traveled to Russia’s Mir space station in 1998 and was in charge of 80-plus science experiments aboard Columbia. A resident of Spokane, Wash., he received a bachelor of science in physics/astronomy from the University of Washington in 1981 and a master of science in physics from Creighton University in 1990. He had logged more than 211 hours in space.

Ramon, 48, a payload specialist, was a colonel in Israel’s air force and a former fighter pilot who had fought in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the 1982 war in Lebanon and had been the youngest of eight pilots who destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad in 1981. Ramon was Israel’s first-ever astronaut, and according to several media reports, his presence on the shuttle prompted increased security for Columbia’s launch and planned landing. Bush administration officials on Feb. 1 were doubtful of the possibility of terrorism, noting that Columbia at 200,000 feet above earth was out of range for surface-to-air missiles.

Ramon’s mother and grandmother survived Nazi Germany’s Auschwitz death camp, according to The Post, and his father, now 79, fought for Israel’s 1948 statehood alongside his grandfather. Ramon was chosen as Israel’s first astronaut in 1997 and then moved to Houston in 1998 to train for shuttle flights. He received a bachelor of science in electronics and computer engineering from the University of Tel Aviv in 1987. He had four children.

The New York Times reported Feb. 1 that the personal items Ramon packed for the shuttle mission included a credit-card sized microfiche of the Bible given to him by Israeli President Moshe Katsav and some mezuzas — small cases that are hung on door frames of Jewish homes containing inscriptions from the Bible. He also carried with him a lunar pencil drawing by a 14-year-old boy who had died in Auschwitz.

Ramon, in an interview distributed by Israel’s Foreign Ministry, had said, “Being the first Israeli astronaut – I feel I am representing all Jews and all Israelis. I’m the son of a Holocaust survivor – I carry on the suffering of the Holocaust generation, and I’m kind of proof that despite all the horror they went through, we’re going forward.”

His father, Eliezer Woferman, was in a Tel Aviv TV studio when the disaster occurred, then went home by taxi, United Press International reported. “I don’t have a son,” the Jerusalem Post quoted Woferman as later saying. “I prefer not to talk. It’s very hard for me.”

Ramon’s wife, Rona, was in Texas with three of their children when the tragedy struck, the Associated Press reported.

Chawla, 41, a mission specialist, immigrated to the United States from India in the 1980s and became an astronaut in 1994, The Post reported. She was a national heroine in India, with a leading Indian newsmagazine recently featuring her on the cover as the most prominent among millions of Indians who have emigrated overseas, the Voice of America reported. One media outlet had publicized the exact times when Columbia would pass over southern Bombay and Madras so people could wave skyward.

Her parents, two sisters and a sister-in-law had traveled to the United States to celebrate her shuttle mission’s launch, VOA and the AP reported.

She received a bachelor of science in aeronautical engineering from Punjap Engineering College in India in 1982, a master of science in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas-Arlington in 1984 and a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado-Boulder in 1988. She had become a U.S. citizen and an FAA-certified flight instructor and had logged more than 376 hours in space in a 1997 shuttle flight, The Post reported.

Chawla had told reporters before her Columbia mission that her inspiration to take up flying had been J.R.D. Tata, who had flown India’s first mail flights.

McCool, 41, was a Navy commander from Lubbock, Texas, and the father of three sons, The Post reported. He graduated second in his class at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983 and became an astronaut in 1996. McCool earned a bachelor of science in applied science from the Naval Academy, a master of science in computer science from the University of Maryland in 1985 and a master of science in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1992, The Post reported.

Brown, 46, a mission specialist, was a Navy captain, pilot and doctor. He became an astronaut in 1996. Brown received a 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, The Post reported.

Clark, 41, a mission specialist, was a Navy diving medical officer aboard submarines, then a flight surgeon who became an astronaut in 1996. A resident of Racine, Wis., she received a bachelor of science in zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1983 and a degree in medicine from the same school in 1987, The Post reported. She had an 8-year-old son and was aboard Columbia to help with its science experiments.
Compiled by Erin Curry & Art Toalston. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: CREW OF THE SPACE SHUTTLE COLUMBIA, FAMILY’S LEGACY and KALPANA CHAWLA.

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