The Columbia mission: Dreams, life and the magic of hard work

Statue of Lt. Col. Anderson

Statue of Lt. Col. Anderson

A few days ago I visited the Seattle Museum of Flight. Just outside the museum, I paused, and there was this moment that made the entire trip west worthwhile – the ghastly little propeller plane from Calgary, the nauseating three hours aboard the Victoria clipper, the missed hours of sleep and writing time.

On the west side of the Museum’s main campus is a statue honoring Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson, the Payload Commander of the Columbia mission lost during re-entry on February 1, 2003. In the statue’s hand is a bird poised to take flight. The plaque reads: “This is what I wanted to do since I was a little kid.  If you apply yourself, work hard to be persistent, and don’t give up, you can achieve anything you want to achieve.” This is what Col. Anderson said in an interview from space earlier in the mission.

Such a true, simple philosophy – yet how many of us adhere to it? So many people, young and old, just want a short-cut to success, fame, money, happiness. But there is no short-cut. Col. Anderson knew this. A little kid dreamed of being an astronaut, and he worked hard to fulfill his dream.

It’s been ten years now and I still remember the shock and the sadness at the news. So today I just want to remember the seven crew members of Columbia who laid down their lives doing something they had worked for, and believed in with all their hearts.

Commander: Rick D. Husband, a U.S. Air Force colonel and mechanical engineer. His wife Evelyn wrote about her life with Rick and his struggles to fulfill his lifelong dream to become an astronaut in the book High Calling: The Courageous Life and Faith of Space Shuttle Columbia Commander Rick Husband.

Pilot: William C. McCool, a U.S. Navy commander and the youngest male member of the crew. His favorite song was “Imagine” by John Lennon. It’s one of my favorites too.

Payload Commander: Michael P. Anderson, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and physicist who was in charge of the science mission. He was one of the few African American astronauts. The Columbia crew successfully conducted about 80 experiments during their mission.

Payload Specialist: Ilan Ramon, a colonel in the Israeli Air Force and the first Israeli astronaut. He is the only foreign recipient of the United States Congressional Space Medal of Honor. 37 pages of a diary he kept in space survived the crash, and an excerpt on display at the Israel Museum includes a copy of the Kiddush prayer.

The crew of the Columbia mission.

The crew of the Columbia mission. Photo: NASA.

Mission Specialist: Kalpana Chawla, an Indian-born aerospace engineer who was on her second space mission. She was the first Indian American astronaut and the first Indian woman in space. While traveling in the weightlessness of space, she said, “You are just your intelligence”. Always proud of you, Dr Chawla.

Mission Specialist: David M. Brown, a U.S. Navy captain trained as an aviator and flight surgeon. Although a NASA astronaut since 1996, Columbia was his first space mission.

Mission Specialist: Laurel Blair Salton Clark, a U.S. Navy captain and flight surgeon. Her husband, fellow NASA flight surgeon Dr. Jonathan Clark, was part of an official NASA panel that prepared the final report about the Columbia disaster. A quote from her: “Life continues in lots of places—and life is a magical thing”.

The legacy of the courageous Columbia crew continues. The Museum of Flight, for instance, hosts an educational and mentoring programme for underserved school students every February, Black History Month, in honor of Lt. Col. Anderson.

For the rest of us, we have their example and their words. Life indeed is magical. Let us cherish it and make the most of it. Let us work hard to achieve our dreams, and not give up, ever.

About Rati Mehrotra

Science fiction and fantasy writer. I blog at: Thanks for dropping by!
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7 Responses to The Columbia mission: Dreams, life and the magic of hard work

  1. jdsfiction says:

    Wonderful post. Great message as well. I dreamed of being a writer since I was about 6 or 7. I’m 35 now and still chasing the dream. Everyday gets me one step closer.
    I’m always impressed by your posts, Rati. Keep up the great work. 🙂


    • Thanks Joseph. From what I’ve read of your short fiction, you’re a great writer! And very prolific too. Keep at it, and I’m sure you’ll find a home and larger audience for your stories.


  2. Hi Rati, 

    Very well done, and thank you for writing this. I’ve always been inspired by spaceflight. It’s just so big in every respect – just the sheer engineering challenge and the organisation involved, and then you have the people willing to accept the risk and put themselves on top of one of these awesome machines for the sheer love and belief in what they’re doing. Thank you for reminding us of these names. If our children need role models, they need look no further.

    Quick note for jdfiction, you are already a writer my friend!




    • Thanks Michael. Spaceflight IS inspiring. And you’re right about jdfiction. Joseph is a writer. So am I. But sometimes its hard to accept, admit and believe! 🙂


  3. I’ve grown up watching our travels into space: waiting for sight of the parachutes on the capsules as they returned to Earth, watching in awe at our first steps on the moon, holding my breath waiting for Apollo 13 to make it back safely. Space has always held my imagination; so infinite, so beautiful, so many possibilities. When the Space Shuttles are unable to land in Florida due to weather, they oftentimes land at Edwards Air Force Base here in California. At one time I lived closer to that area,and made it down in time to see the Columbia land. Amazing. I have a photograph of it touching down. It was so much larger than I imagined. It was so heartbreaking to lose it and its crew. Somehow, having seen the shuttle in person made it feel very personal to me. Though we mourn the loss of life, there is joy in knowing that they lived their dream, fully and completely.


    • Thanks for sharing Linda. Must have been amazing to see it with your own eyes. Maybe some day not too far in the future we’ll see a mission to Mars. Mr. Obama talked about a manned mission to orbit Mars by the mid-2030s.


  4. Nicely done. I just said their names slowly–as It should be.


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