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Space Shuttle Columbia

Astronaut Clark: 'Life is a magical thing'

Laurel Clark was a medical doctor who joined NASA in 1996.
Laurel Clark was a medical doctor who joined NASA in 1996.

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CNN's Bruce Burkhardt looks at the life of Columbia mission specialist Laurel Clark, 41, who was also a mother and retired Navy flight surgeon.
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(CNN) -- It was her first trip into space, but Astronaut Laurel Clark said she felt like an experienced veteran after two weeks in orbit.

"This has been a great experience for me," she said in a call from space with a reporter from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "The first couple of days you don't always feel too well. I feel wonderful now. The first couple of days you adjust to the fluid shifting, how to fly through space without hitting things or anybody else. But then after a couple of days you get in a groove. It's just an incredibly magical place."

Doctor and mother

Clark, 41, was a medical doctor as well as a commander in the U.S. Navy. She joined NASA in 1996 and the Columbia flight was her first shuttle mission.

During the shuttle mission, a failed piece of hardware caused heat to rise to about 84 degrees in the module, where Clark and her crew mates conducted experiments. Engineers eventually were able to reduce the heat to about 73 degrees, which Clark said made the astronauts "comfy."

"A piņa colada would have been really nice," Clark joked during the call. "It was warmer, but we all got along just fine."

Clark was born in Iowa but considered Racine, Wisconsin her hometown. She earned a zoology degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she also earned her medical degree.

She entered naval service after graduating from medical school and served as a submarine medical officer and a flight surgeon.

Studying life

Before the mission, Clark was injected with tracer chemicals for a medical experiment. She also donated blood several times before and after going into space, kept samples of her saliva and tracked what she ate and how much she slept in an effort to see how space affected the human body.

It was the wonder of life that inspired her most during the space trip, making note of the silkworm cocoon that she had seen hatch in orbit as part of an experiment.

"There was a moth in there, and it still had its wings crumpled up, and it was just starting to pump its wings up," she told a reporter. "Life continues in lots of places, and life is a magical thing."

Clark is survived by her husband and one child.

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