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Heros Live On

Biography: Laurel Clark
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Biography: Laurel Clark
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(CAPTAIN, USN)

laurelclark_sc2003e10733.jpg

Doug Haviland says he read an e-mail from space from his niece Laurel Salton Clark. "She was thrilled by the whole thing,” said Doug, 76, of Ames, Iowa, where Clark was born. "She loved the views. She said she could see lightning flash over the Pacific Ocean.”

His wife, Betty, added, "She talked about the wonders she saw up there and how proud she was to represent her country and how blessed she felt to have this experience.” The family was on an e-mail network, where they would circulate her messages from space. It turned out to be their last message from her.
 
Clark, 41, was one of seven astronauts on board the Space Shuttle Columbia yesterday that died as the shuttle broke apart in flames. A commander in the U.S. Navy and a naval flight surgeon, she was part of a crew working on more than 80 experiments including studies of astronaut health and safety.

"It's a tragedy,” said Doug, who lost his son Timothy in the World Trade Center tragedy. "This was her first mission.” Yesterday, he described Laurel as an adventuresome woman who once climbed Mt. Fuji, and "a very goal oriented person,” who had always dreamed of going into space.

It was almost as if she had been preparing for her whole life. Clark received 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. She trained in the Navy as an undersea and diving medical officer and performed medical evacuations from submarines. After six months of aeromedical training, she became a naval flight surgeon and eventually was selected by NASA in April 1996 as a mission specialist.

Clark was born in Ames, Iowa, but considered Racine, Wis. to be her hometown, graduating from William Horlick High School in Racine. She was married to Jonathan B. Clark and had one old son, Ian, 8. They lived in Houston.

"She was so well-rounded,” said Jody Zurawski, a classmate at William Horlick High School, where tthe 1979 yearbook lists Clark as participating in forensics, the senior council, senior girls club, the ski club and swim team -- not to mention stints as a lifeguard and at McDonald's.

Phillip Certain, dean of the college of letters and science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said one of the mementos she took with her to space was a teddy bear -- a woman astronaut -- which sported that college's logo. He remembers speaking with her last June 28 when the flight had been delayed. "She was frustrated, but philosophical about the delay,” he said. She compared it to approaching the finish line in a marathon -- and having the organizers move that line "10 miles further away.” Still, he said, she was glad to have more time for training.

She told of joining the Navy purely for financial reasons -- to help pay for medical school, but then getting hooked on the opportunities she found there. It wasn't until her 30s that she became interested in the astronaut program, she said.

"She was very personable,” said Gregg Baumer, a neighbor of Clark who also works for NASA. The last time he saw Clark was a couple of months ago when she took part in a neighborhood "crime watch night out.” But he did hear from her one last time,” Baumer said. She sent my wife and I an invitation to the launch.

"I saw the launch, and it was fantastic.”

Laurel's E-Mail: January 31, 2003

``Hello from above our magnificent planet Earth. The perspective is truly awe-inspiring. This is a terrific mission and we are very busy doing science round the clock. Just getting a moment to type e-mail is precious so this will be short, and distributed to many who I know and love.

I have seen some incredible sights: lightning spreading over the Pacific, the Aurora Australis lighting up the entire visible horizon with the cityglow of Australia below, the crescent moon setting over the limb of the Earth, the vast plains of Africa and the dunes on Cape Horn, rivers breaking through tall mountain passes, the scars of humanity, the continuous line of life extending from North America, through Central America and into South America, a crescent moon setting over the limb of our blue planet. Mount Fuji looks like a small bump from up here, but it does stand out as a very distinct landmark.

Magically, the very first day we flew over Lake Michigan and I saw Wind Point (Wis.) clearly. Haven't been so lucky since. Every orbit we go over a slightly different part of the Earth. Of course, much of the time I'm working back in Spacehab and don't see any of it. Whenever I do get to look out, it is glorious. Even the stars have a special brightness.

I have seen my 'friend' Orion several times. Taking photos of the earth is a real challenge, but a steep learning curve. I think I have finally gotten some beautiful shots the last 2 days. Keeping my fingers crossed that they're in sharp focus.

My near vision has gotten a little worse up here so you may have seen pics/video of me wearing glasses. I feel blessed to be here representing our country and carrying out the research of scientists around the world. All of the experiments have accomplished most of their goals despite the inevitable hiccups that occur when such a complicated undertaking is undertaken. Some experiments have even done extra science. A few are finished and one is just getting started today.

The food is great and I am feeling very comfortable in this new, totally different environment. It still takes a while to eat as gravity doesn't help pull food down your esophagus. It is also a constant challenge to stay adequately hydrated. Since our body fluids are shifted toward our heads our sense of thirst is almost non-existent.

Thanks to many of you who have supported me and my adventures throughout the years. This was definitely one to beat all. I hope you could feel the positive energy that beamed to the whole planet as we glided over our shared planet.

Love to all, Laurel.''

"Heros Live On..."

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