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“She cared about everybody:” Roommate of Laurel Clark inspires, 15 years after Columbia disaster

BAYSIDE -- It has been 15 years since seven astronauts died when space shuttle Columbia shattered in the skies over Texas, just minutes before a Florida touchdown. Astronaut and flight surgeon Laurel Clark was one of those on board the shuttle. She was from Racine and a University of Wisconsin alum.

Martha Wilson

Middle school teacher Martha Wilson was college roommates with Clark.

"I keep forgetting to talk about her in the past tense because she was just so bright and smiley and she cared about everybody," Wilson said.

Wilson and Clark bonded during their time at UW.

Laurel Clark, Martha Wilson

"She was majoring in Zoology and I was majoring in education and we just got along great and roommates and Laurel got along with everybody," Wilson said.

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Wilson and Clark stayed in touch after college as Clark became a doctor, then served in the Navy and eventually NASA. In fact, in 2000 Clark visited Wilson's classroom at Bayside Middle School.

"She talked about how much work it is and the experience and studying and reading to become an astronaut," Wilson said. "She talked about how she tried and didn't get in the first time and tried again. So another example of don't give up."

Wilson followed every day of her friend's 16-day trip to space. But on Feb. 1, 2003, Columbia broke apart on re-entry.

"Nobody knew at the time it was the heat shield that had broken off. Oh, it was tough, very tough," Wilson said.

The end of Clark's life, while tragic, was just one moment in an amazing life that has and continues to inspire others.

"She was loving and giving and a sparkle to all those around her," Wilson said.

NASA's held its annual day of remembrance on Thursday, Jan. 25 to honor all its astronauts killed in the line of duty. Seventeen died in three accidents: Columbia, the Apollo 1 fire on the launch pad on Jan. 27, 1967, and the shuttle Challenger launch disaster on Jan. 28, 1986. The seven others died in plane crashes during training or other official business.

ARLINGTON, VA - JANUARY 28: A wreath stands before the space shuttle Challenger memorial on NASA's annual Day of Remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery on January 28, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. On the anniversary of the Challenger disaster in 1986, NASA staff gather with the crews' families to pay tribute to the NASA crew members who have lost their lives advancing the cause of exploration. (Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)