Image: Husband and Anderson
Michael Stravato  /  AP
Sandy Anderson, front, and Evelyn Husband, left, reflect on the year since the space shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas on Feb. 1, killing their husbands and the five other astronauts on board.
updated 1/31/2004 9:43:42 PM ET 2004-02-01T02:43:42

The families of seven astronauts killed last year when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated say their friendship has helped them endure one of the toughest years of their lives.

“There is a lot of strength when we are together ... so many things we don’t have to say because we are all going through the same thing,” said Evelyn Husband, widow of shuttle commander Rick Husband.

A chunk of insulating foam the size of a suitcase tore a hole in Columbia’s left wing 82 seconds after liftoff. The gap let in the searing gases of re-entry two weeks later as the orbiter was returning to Earth, and the ship broke apart over Feb. 1, killing everyone on board.

In interviews and a recent news conference, the victims’ families said they got to know each other during the two years of training that the astronauts went through before the mission.

Besides Rick Husband, astronauts Michael Anderson, William C. McCool, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, Ilan Ramon and David Brown died in the tragedy.

Rick Husband
Commander Rick Husband, 45, was an Air Force colonel and former test pilot from Amarillo, Texas. During the past year, Evelyn Husband wrote a book about her husband called “High Calling.”  She says faith has helped her and her 13-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son through their grief.

“Mourning is the hardest walk I have ever had to go through,” Evelyn Husband said. “There are a lot of memories that I am reliving. The last time Rick was at home. The last time he hugged our kids. The last time we were together as a family. The last time we prayed together.”

Michael Anderson
Payload commander Michael Anderson, 43, grew up on military bases. He was flying for the Air Force when NASA chose him in 1994. Sandy Anderson said she makes sure to talk with her two daughters, aged 10 and 12, about their father.

“I have appreciated the kindness of people and there have been some awfully nice tributes and memorials for our husbands and crew,” she said. “But as you can imagine, with kids and family, it is time to have closure and go on.”

Michael Anderson was one of a small number of black astronauts, something his widow hopes will inspire black children to study math and science.

“He had wanted to be an astronaut from the time he was a little boy. He worked toward that end and God blessed him,” she said. “He was just a kind man and I miss that. I miss talking to him. I miss all of those things that a wife would miss about her husband.”

William McCool
Pilot William McCool, 41, was a Navy commander who grew up in Lubbock, Texas. As a youngster, he beat fellow Texan George W. Bush at a school track meet, McCool’s mother said.

Audrey McCool said her son’s death made the entire family more aware of life’s fragility, and they have tried to ensure a legacy that will help others achieve educational goals.

McCool’s name carries on at his old high school in Lubbock, which named its track after him. A scholarship at the high school has also been established in his name. And an elementary school in Las Vegas, where his parents live, has named a space science center in his honor.

“He would be so modest he wouldn’t think that he deserved any legacy,” Audrey McCool said. “But I suppose if he did, being able to encourage children to learn would be a real legacy for him.”

William McCool was survived by his wife, Lanni, and three sons, ages 14, 19 and 22.

David Brown
Mission specialist David Brown, 46, was a Navy captain, pilot and doctor, who grew up in Arlington County, Va. He joined the Navy after a medical internship, then went on to fly the A-6E Intruder and F-18. He became an astronaut in 1996. Columbia’s mission was his first spaceflight.

A classmate called him “bubbly with enthusiasm” with a “sheer joy for life and all its trimmings.”

When asked in an interview about the risk of flying in space, Brown, who was single, said he had made a decision when he joined the Navy as a pilot that everyday risk would be a part of his job.

“The decision to go fly in space,” he said, “is just an extension of that.”

Kalpana Chawla
Mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, 41, emigrated to the United States from India in 1980s with the plan of designing aircraft.

As an astronaut, she was a heroine in India, which has launched satellites for years and is preparing for a moon orbit this decade. One Indian news agency even tracked Columbia’s flight so it could tell readers the exact minute they could wave to the skies to hail their countrywoman.

Her husband, pilot Jean-Pierre Harrison, said what attracted him to her was “her inner fire to do well.” She risk she took in her job was something they both accepted, he said.

Laurel Clark
Mission specialist Laurel Clark, 41, who grew up in Racine, Wis., was a diving medical officer aboard submarines and then a flight surgeon before she became an astronaut.

Her doctor-husband, Jon, continues to work for the space agency and to raise the couple’s 9-year-old son. Clark says he wants more transparency into the tragedy.

“You’ve got to be out in the open about it,” he said. “You’ve got to say, ’How did this thing come apart? How did the crew die?’ “

Clark said his wife would want to be remembered as a source of inspiration and also for change at NASA.

Ilan Ramon
Payload specialist Ilan Ramon, 48, was the first Israeli in space. A fighter pilot in two Israeli wars, his mother and grandmother survived the Auschwitz death camp.

He carried with him into space a copy of a small drawing titled “Moon Landscape” by Peter Ginz, a 14-year-old boy who was died at Auschwitz.

Married, he left a daughter and three sons, ages 5 to 15.

His wife, Rona, has declined most interview requests, but she was among astronauts’ families who last year visited a number of schools and science centers worldwide.

“It’s tough to go out and talk to people because we know they (astronauts) were supposed to be here and not us,” she said, “but we need to keep their legacy alive and feel it is our mission to do this.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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