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Space Shuttle Columbia

Astronaut's brother: Last contact 'very special'

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.
Daniel Salton, the brother of astronaut Laurel Clark

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MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (CNN) -- As the nation mourns the tragedy of the space shuttle Columbia, the families of the seven astronauts who were killed struggle with their losses and remember their loved ones. Daniel Salton, the brother of astronaut Laurel Clark, shared memories of his sister with CNN Anchor Paula Zahn Sunday.

ZAHN: I know you were tracking your sister's return yesterday. And as I understand it, it was many minutes before you truly understood what was going on.

SALTON: Yes. It was -- I had no idea that -- I had not watched the landing. I did not realize that, when they lost communication, that wasn't normal. When it went on for a long time I just thought that they were in some kind of blackout zone. And it took me a good 10 minutes to finally realize what had happened, and it was a shock. I couldn't believe it.

ZAHN: I don't think anybody in the country could believe it. Where were you?

SALTON: I was here in my house. I was sitting in my computer room on the computer. And so I was running between -- after a few minutes I was trying to check the TV and the computer and just trying to figure out what was going on.

ZAHN: I understand the computer was a bit of a lifeline between you and your sister, and she fired off an e-mail to you a couple of days ago. Can you share with us what she was trying to tell you?

SALTON: It was an e-mail to all of her family. ... It was a very special e-mail for us because it was the last real communication we had directly from her. And she just talked about how thrilled she was to be up there, the view from up there, how great it was seeing different sites, being able to see on her very first day Wind Point in Wisconsin, which is where Racine is, and seeing something familiar there. Also different places around the world.

And then getting into how blessed she felt to be serving her country and getting to do the medical experiments, working with scientists around the world and how thrilling it was. And really helping to share with us a little bit of what she was going through ... what it was like to eat in space and how she was acclimating to it, and that she was having fun. And I think it was -- it was great to get that at the end.

ZAHN: How passionate was she about the science that was being done on this mission?

SALTON: Well, any time you talk to her actually it's what you ended up talking about usually. It's what she wanted to talk about. It's what she really cared for.

She was -- being a medical doctor, I think it's what she really got out, and what she was excited about the space program is what they were able to do in the microgravity research. And she was very into it and loved to talk about it. So I think she was very excited about it.

ZAHN: Were you part of any calls the president made to members of the family affected by this tragedy?

SALTON: I think that the president called the people who were down in Houston. I had -- my sister Lynn was in Houston and my brother-in-law John Clark and Ian were there, of course. And he talked to them. So we are heading to -- I'm sorry. They were in Florida at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. And I think that's where he talked to them.

We are heading to Houston after this. Well, sometime in the next day or two, where we're going to be with family and hopefully there will be a memorial service. I think there's a plan to having a memorial service there that we plan on attending.

ZAHN: I know you mentioned your sister's husband. Without violating your privacy, are you able to share with us anything this morning about how your sister's 8-year-old son is doing and her husband?

SALTON: Well, we're very thankful that one of his brothers, Dave Clark, was able to get down to Houston. And my brother John Salton, was able to get down there to Houston last night to help out. And so they're there now and helping out any way they can. And we'll be hearing from them later as to what the plans are, when the rest of us should come down and how it will all work. And I'm just thankful that they were able to get there.

ZAHN: You've said so much this morning about what drove your sister to the excellence that she accomplished in her life. Just a final thought on what else you want people in America to know about the sacrifice she made and how serious she was about serving her country.

SALTON: Well, Laurel was a very intense person who would set goals and would go for them. And I think that that's a great role model for kids today, to know that the goal-oriented stuff that they talk about, that the counselors at school tell you about, it works. It gets you places. You can do great things for humanity if you just set some small goals and always go for the next thing and set your sights higher.

When you reach that goal, go for the next thing. And that's what she did. And we're all very proud for what she was able to do. And we certainly all hope that NASA keeps going and continues on with its research. I think it's very important for humanity to keep this going.

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