Laurel Clark was a medical doctor, United States Navy Captain, NASA astronaut and Space Shuttle mission specialist. She was born Laurel Blair Salton Clark on March 10, 1961 in Ames, Iowa. She graduated from William Horlick High School in Racine, Wisconsin in 1979, and then went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology from the University of Wisconsin”“Madison in 1983. Just four years later, she earned her doctorate from the same university.
During medical school, Clark completed active duty training with the Diving Medicine Department at the United States Navy Experimental Diving Unit. After medical school, Clark went through a year of postgraduate medical education in pediatrics at the National Naval Medical Center. The next year she completed Navy undersea medical officer training at the Naval Undersea Medical Institute in Groton, Connecticut, as well as diving medical officer training at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City, Florida. Clark was named a Radiation Health Officer and Undersea Medical Officer and was then assigned as the Submarine Squadron 14 Medical Department Head in Holy Loch, Scotland. After two years, she was designated as a Naval Submarine Medical Officer and Diving Medical Officer. Clark continued her career by completing six months of aeromedical training at the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute in Pensacola, Florida. She became a Naval Flight Surgeon and was stationed at MCAS Yuma, Arizona for a Marine Corps AV-8B Night Attack Harrier Squadron. During her time there, Clark made several deployments, practiced medicine in harsh environments, and flew on multiple aircraft. She was then assigned as the Group Flight Surgeon for the Marine Aircraft Group, and later served as a Flight Surgeon for the Naval Flight Officer advanced training squadron in Pensacola, Florida.
In April 1996, Clark was chosen by NASA as an astronaut candidate. Four months later, she reported to the Johnson Space Center and completed two years of training and evaluation. She was then qualified for flight assignment as a mission specialist; however, from July 1997 to August 2000, she worked in the Astronaut Office Payloads/Habitability Branch. Clark’s first flight to space was in 2003 aboard Shuttle Columbia for the STS-107 mission. The purpose of the mission was to conduct science and research experiments. While they had a successful time in space, the mission ended tragically when Columbia and the crew disintegrated 16 minutes before scheduled landing on February 1, 2003. A videotape was later recovered that showed Mission Control asking Clark just before her death to perform some small task. She said she would get to it soon. Mission Control’s response was not to worry, because she had “all the time in the world.” Clark’s final message to her family and friends was via email sent from the space shuttle. She is survived by her husband, fellow NASA flight surgeon Dr. Jonathan Clark and son Iain.