Today the flags at AOPA headquarters are flying at half-staff as the association joins the nation in mourning the loss of the space shuttle Columbia crewmembers. Several general aviation pilots were among the seven-person crew aboard, lost during its reentry into Earth's atmosphere Saturday.
"The entire AOPA family joins in sorrow with the families of the brave men and women of Columbia. We stand humbled by their sacrifice," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
"We are reminded, in this one-hundredth year of powered flight, that the dangers facing our earliest aviators continue to challenge those who would extend our quest for understanding into the reaches of outer space," he added.
An AOPA member since 1995, Mission Specialist Dr. David M. Brown was 46 years old. A captain in the U.S. Navy, he was a naval aviator and flight surgeon. Owner of a Beech Bonanza, he had logged more than 2,700 flight hours, with 1,700 in high-performance military aircraft. He was qualified as first pilot in NASA T-38 aircraft. Selected by NASA in April 1996, Brown was making his first space flight.
Mission Specialist Laurel Clark, 41, was a commander (captain-select) in the U.S. Navy and a naval flight surgeon. She had joined AOPA in 2002. Dr. Clark was also making her first space flight.
Another very active general aviation pilot, Mission Specialist Dr. Kalpana Chawla, 41, was an aerospace engineer and a certificated flight instructor with airplane and glider ratings, commercial pilot in single- and multiengine land and seaplanes and gliders, and held an instrument rating for airplanes. She enjoyed flying aerobatics and tailwheel airplanes. STS-107 was her second space flight; selected by NASA in December 1994, "KC" had logged more than 376 hours in space.
Mission Commander Rick Husband, 45, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, was a test pilot and veteran of one space flight. Shuttle Pilot William C. McCool, 41, was a commander in the U.S. Navy and a test pilot. Payload Commander Michael P. Anderson, 43, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, was an instructor pilot and tactical officer. Ilan Ramon, 48, a colonel in the Israeli Air Force, was a fighter pilot who was the only payload specialist on STS-107.
McCool and Ramon were also making their first flights into space.