The space shuttle Columbia on Saturday ripped apart on its descent over Texas, killing all seven astronauts on board. NASA is still investigating the cause of the tragedy, most recently pointing to evidence that the temperature of the left fuselage shot up 60 degrees six minutes before the accident, according to the New York Times. However, NASA’s shuttle program manager, Ron Dittmore, cautions that this new information is only a piece of the puzzle, the Times reports.
Among the seven astronauts on board were two women. Dr. Kalpana Chawla, an aerospace engineer, was only the second Indian astronaut ever, and the first Indian-born woman astronaut. Chawla was a pioneer throughout her life, the first woman to earn a degree in aeronautical engineering at the Punjab Engineering College, according to the Times of India. Despite her parents’ disapproval, she left India for the United States to continue her education, earning a doctorate at the University of Colorado in aerospace engineering. Chawla joined NASA in 1994, going on her first shuttle mission in 1997. To celebrate her life, 1,500 boys and girls ran through her hometown of Karnal, India, wearing crowns that read “Kalpana is our hero” and “Kalpana is our golden girl,” according to the Washington Post.
Navy Commander Laurel Blair Salton Clark was a Navy flight surgeon who was on her first shuttle flight. Her brother described her as “very goal-oriented,” saying that he was “thankful that she was able to fly and get up there and see Earth from space, because she’d dreamed of that for a long time,” the Post reports. Clark had previously been a submarine medical officer, diving with Navy SEALS.
The other astronauts on board Columbia were mission commander and Air Force colonel Rick Husband; Air Force lieutenant colonel Michael Anderson, who was the payload commander and one of only a few African-American astronauts at NASA; Captain David Brown, a Navy pilot and physician and mission specialist; Navy commander and pilot Willie McCool; and payload specialist Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space.