(2/5/2003) The loss of the space shuttle Columbia with her crew of seven was a national tragedy. Letters like this one are sobering reminders that it was a personal tragedy as well.
SAMPLE CHAIN LETTER TEXT
ASTRONAUT'S LAST E-MAIL
Friday, the day before the space shuttle Columbia was to land in Florida, mission specialist Laurel Clark sent an e-mail to friends and family describing the awe-inspiring views of Earth from orbit. Here is the full text of her message:
HELLO FROM ABOVE our magnificent planet Earth. The perspective is truly awe-inspiring. This is a terrific mission and we are very busy doing science round the clock. Just getting a moment to type e-mail is precious so this will be short, and distributed to many who I know and love.
I have seen some incredible sights: lightning spreading over the Pacific, the Aurora Australis lighting up the entire visible horizon with the cityglow of Australia below, the crescent moon setting over the limb of the Earth, the vast plains of Africa and the dunes on Cape Horn, rivers breaking through tall mountain passes, the scars of humanity, the continuous line of life extending from North America, through Central America and into South America, a crescent moon setting over the limb of our blue planet. Mount Fuji looks life a small bump from up here, but it does stand out as a very distinct landmark.
Magically, the very first day we flew over Lake Michigan and I saw Wind Point (Wis.) clearly. Haven't been so lucky since. Every orbit we go over a slightly different part of the Earth. Of course, much of the time I'm working back in Spacehab and don't see any of it. Whenever I do get to look out, it is glorious. Even the stars have a special brightness.
I have seen my 'friend' Orion several times. Taking photos of the earth is a real challenge, but a steep learning curve. I think I have finally gotten some beautiful shots the last 2 days. Keeping my fingers crossed that they're in sharp focus.
My near vision has gotten a little worse up here so you may have seen pics/video of me wearing glasses. I feel blessed to be here representing our country and carrying out the research of scientists around the world. All of the experiments have accomplished most of their goals despite the inevitable hiccups that occur when such a complicated undertaking is undertaken. Some experiments have even done extra science. A few are finished and one is just getting started today.
The food is great and I am feeling very comfortable in this new, totally different environment. It still takes a while to eat as gravity doesn't help pull food down your esophagus. It is also a constant challenge to stay adequately hydrated. Since our body fluids are shifted toward our heads our sense of thirst is almost nonexistent.
Thanks to many of you who have supported me and my adventures throughout the years. This was definitely one to beat all. I hope you could feel the positive energy that beamed to the whole planet as we glided over our shared planet.
Love to all, Laurel
END CHAIN LETTER TEXT
On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke up as it prepared to land in Florida, losing all seven crew members aboard: mission commander Rick Husband, payload commander Michael Anderson, pilot William McCool, and mission specialists Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Ilan Ramon and Laurel Clark.
In a February 2nd interview with CNN's Paula Zahn, Laurel Clark's brother, Daniel Salton, described the last e-mail she sent to her family. His description was consistent with the message above, so there is little reason to doubt its authenticity.
However, keep in mind that we do not know how it came to be in wide circulation or if it is unchanged from the original. In its current form, the tone is positive and conveys the message that the crew's final days were probably the most exciting of their lives. Unfortunately, e-mail is not reliable and changes can be made to the message as it circulates. The addition or deletion of just a few words could completely alter the theme of the note.
When an e-mail chain letter is tied to a tragic event, reactions to it are often varied and severe. In this case, readers who have asked me about this one have felt a combination of disbelief, sadness and outrage. Some feel it is a cruel fabrication. Some are encouraged that the crew's lives were not lost in vain. Others see the forwarding of such a personal note as macabre voyeurism.
Keep in mind that your friends and family will have differing reactions to this chain. Don't assume that they will all be happy to receive it. When the subject is very emotionally charged, it's good practice to make sure before you send. Break this chain.