The Columbia Tragedy Has Ties to Washington State
Twenty years ago today the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up during reentry after a 16 day space mission. The lives of all seven crew members were lost. After an extensive investigation it was determined that damage to the left wing during launch on January 16th created the situation that caused the shuttle to break apart on reentry.
Washington State was impacted by the crash
Two of the astronauts who lost their lives had strong ties to Washington State. We honor their memories on this, the 20th Anniversary of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.
Michael P. Anderson was the payload commander and was also the lieutenant colonel in charge of science experiments aboard Columbia. Anderson was born in New York, but grew up on Fairchild Air Force Base outside of Spokane after his father, a jet mechanic, was transferred.
Anderson graduated from Cheney High School in 1977 then went on to get his bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Washington in 1981. He was awarded a Masters of Science Degree from Creighton University in 1990. Though Anderson was born in the Empire state, he always considered the Evergreen State his home.
Anderson rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force and was selected in December of 1994 for astronaut training after logging more than 300 flight hours. The Columbia was Anderson's second space mission. He was a part of the crew of the Endeavor that conducted an astronaut exchange at the Mir Space Station.
Anderson was survived by his wife and two daughters, as well as his parents and three sisters. He enjoyed photography and computers as well as playing chess and tennis. Anderson also sang in his church choir.
William C. "Willie" McCool was born in San Diego, CA. His parents divorced while he was very young. His mother then married a navy pilot that led McCool to Texas and graduating from Coronado High School in Lubbock, TX. McCool went on to get his Bachelor of Science in Applied Science from the US Naval Academy in 1983. In 1985 McCool would get his Masters of Science in Computer Science from the University of Maryland and followed that up in 1992 with a Masters of Science in Aeronautical Engineering from the US Navy Postgraduate School.
McCool completed his flight training in 1985 and was assigned as a navy pilot to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, making a home with his family in Anacortes. He would eventually be assigned to Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 132 on the USS Enterprise where he would eventually become noticed by NASA.
McCool was selected by NASA in 1996 after massing over 2,800 flight hours in 24 different aircraft. After two years of training and evaluation he qualified as a pilot. McCool first mission in space was to be aboard the Columbia mission.
McCool was survived by his wife and three sons, one of who followed in his father's military footsteps. McCool was a fan of the outdoors, playing guitar, chess, and swimming. McCool, Anderson, and the rest of the Columbia crew were posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal which is awarded as an expression of national appreciation. A patch was also created to honor the fallen astronauts.