Tuesday, February 04, 2003

A Columbia Astronaut's Last E-Mail to Earth

Today the Associated Press released the text of an e-mail sent by astronaut Laurel Clark to her friends and family the day before her death. She happily tells them in some detail about her experiences in orbit. For example, she described the views from space of "our magnificent planet Earth" as "truly awe-inspiring," but adds that she and the rest of the crew were so "busy doing science round the clock" that "getting a moment to type e-mail is precious."

Clark vividly describes her seeing "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." While over Japan, she says, "Mount Fuji looks life a small bump from up here, but it does stand out as a very distinct landmark."

She also describes clearly seeing her native Lake Michigan area, especially the area of Wisconsin she came from. She didn't get a lot of chances for sight-seeing over Planet Earth, she said, because "much of the time I'm working back in Spacehab and don't see any of it." But "[w]henever I do get to look out, it is glorious. Even the stars have a special brightness." She noted that she took as many photos as she could, and felt she got some especially beautiful shots though expressing concern over their sharpness since zero-gravity can affect one's focusing. On that note, it would a nice turn in this tragedy if her camera is eventually recovered.

She writes, "I feel blessed to be here representing our country and carrying out the research of scientists around the world" and adds that "[t]he food is great and I am feeling very comfortable in this new, totally different environment." But eating and drinking in zero gravity has its challenges: "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."

Clark closes her e-mail thanking her family and friends for "hav[ing] 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."

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