15 years later: Remembering Laurel Clark and Columbia crew - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

15 years later: Remembering Laurel Clark and Columbia crew

(Courtesy NASA) (Courtesy NASA)
(Courtesy NASA) (Courtesy NASA)

It has been 15 years since the space shuttle Columbia exploded upon re-entry into the atmosphere, killing all seven crew members including a Wisconsin woman.

The shuttle disintegrated over Texas just 16 minutes before its scheduled landing in 2003.

Laurel Salton Clark was born in Iowa but called Racine, Wis. her home, according to the University of Wisconsin Madison.

She earned a bachelor of science degree in zoology from the UW Madison in 1983 and a doctorate in medicine in 1987.

She made her mark as a doctor, a naval submarine medical officer and a group flight surgeon for the marines. Her first time working on the Columbia required conducting some of the crew’s more than 80 experiments.

"She was studying gravity and its effect on humans, and she gardened in space to study gene transfer in plants,"  Tod Pritchar of the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association said.

The Columbia was in space for 15 days before it disintegrated. America watched in horror as Clark and her six crewmates died. She was 41.

“I have seen some incredible sights: lightning spreading over the Pacific, the Aurora Australis lighting up the entire visible horizon with the city glow of Australia below … rivers breaking through tall mountain passes, the scars of humanity … a crescent moon setting over the limb of our blue planet,” Clark wrote in a final email sent to her family from space. “Whenever I do get to look out, it is glorious. Even the stars have a special brightness.”

Clark’s life and loss continue to inspire new generations of astronauts, Pritchar said. She is highlighted in the Discovery exhibit along Alumni Way within the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s Alumni Park, which opened on October 6, 2017.

The park is located between Memorial Union and the Red Gym on the UW–Madison campus and is open year-round.

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