ARLINGTON, Va. (NNS) -- Capt. Laurel Clark was laid to rest March 10, on what would have been her 42nd birthday, at Arlington National Cemetery.
Clark, a Navy flight surgeon and mission specialist, was a member of the seven astronaut crew that perished aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia (STS 107) during its reentry into the Earth's atmosphere.
Funeral services began with a memorial service in the Memorial Chapel at Ft. Myer, Va. Her remains were then transferred by a horse-drawn carriage to her final resting place at the Astronaut Memorial, where she was buried with full military honors, next to fellow astronauts who perished aboard Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986.
Clark was selected to the space program in April 1996. After completing two years of training and evaluation, she was qualified for flight assignment as a mission specialist. From July 1997 to August 2000, she worked in the astronaut office payloads/habitability branch. This was Clark's first space mission. She logged 15 days, 22 hours and 20 minutes in space.
The loss of Columbia was a shock to the world; much like the loss of Challenger 17 years ago and Apollo I 36 years ago. Even with the advances in technology since the inception of space flight, no one could have predicted such tragedies.
"In an age when space flight has come to seem almost routine, it is easy to overlook the dangers of travel by rocket, and the difficulties of navigating the fierce outer atmosphere of the Earth," said President George W. Bush in an address to the nation Feb. 1. "These astronauts knew the dangers, and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life. Because of their courage and daring and idealism, we will miss them all the more. The cause in which they died will continue. Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on."
As the families of the departed endure the grieving process, they released this statement read by Evelyn Husband, wife of shuttle commander Rick Husband, on NBC's Today show:
"On Jan. 16, we saw our loved ones launch into a brilliant, cloud-free sky. Their hearts were full of enthusiasm, pride in country, faith in their God, and a willingness to accept risk in the pursuit of knowledge; knowledge that might improve the quality of life for all mankind.
"Columbia's 16-day mission of scientific discovery was a great success, cut short by mere minutes; yet it will live on forever in our memories. We want to thank the NASA family and people from around the world for their incredible outpouring of love and support. Although we grieve deeply, the bold exploration of space must go on. Once the root cause of this tragedy is found and corrected, the legacy of Columbia must carry on; for the benefit of our children and yours."
Clark's last words, unfortunately, were written, vice spoken. In an e-mail sent to family and friends, she wrote:
"Hello from above our magnificent planet Earth. The perspective is truly awe-inspiring... lightning spreading over the Pacific; the aurora australis lighting up the entire visible horizon with the city glow of Australia below; 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 and into South America; a crescent moon setting over the limb of our blue planet.
"I feel blessed to be here representing our country and carrying out the research of scientists around the world. I hope you could feel the positive energy that I beamed to the whole planet as we glided over our shared planet."
For her dedicated service to her country and to space travel, Clark was posthumously awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and the NASA Spaceflight Medal. In addition to the awards, the Clark family was presented the national ensign that was flown over mission control at Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston during Columbia's mission.
For more information on Space Shuttle Columbia and its crew, go to www.nasa.gov/columbia.