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Laurel Clark | Wisconsin Historical Society

Feature Story

Laurel Clark

Celebrating Wisconsin Visionaries, Changemakers, and Storytellers

Laurel Clark | Wisconsin Historical Society

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A Visionary in Space

Visionary | Laurel Clark | 1961 - 2003

Laurel Clark in her astronaut uniform smiling at the camera with the american flag behind her.

Formal Portrait of Laurel Clark in her astronaut uniform. - Photo Courtesy of NASA 

Laurel Clark was a visionary and a NASA astronaut who made lasting contributions to scientific research on her first and only expedition into space. Clark helped pioneer a specialized treadmill for the international space station, and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

Clark grew up in Racine, Wisconsin, where she attended William Horlick High School, graduating in 1979. She enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she completed a bachelor’s degree in zoology in 1983 and a doctorate in medicine in 1987. Once she completed her education, Clark joined the US Navy, where she received extensive training as an undersea medical officer. She performed numerous dives to evacuate submarines in medical emergencies, and was exposed to many different operational environments. Clark also received aeromedical training and was designated a Naval flight surgeon.

NASA selected Clark for astronaut training in 1996. For several years she worked in the Astronaut Office Payloads/Habitability Branch before embarking on her first flight in 2003 as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Columbia for its STS-107 mission.

On the 16 day mission, the STS-107 crew successfully conducted more than 80 experiments, including astronaut health and safety studies and technology development.

As it returned to Earth on February 1, 2003, the Columbia broke apart over Texas just 16 minutes before it was due to land in Florida. The visionary Clark and six other crew members of the STS-107 mission perished. During a memorial service at Johnson Space Center, President George W. Bush emphasized Clark’s love for her family and her work. In addition to the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, Clark was also posthumously awarded a NASA Space Flight Medal, a NASA Distinguished Service Medal, a Defense Distinguished Service Medal, and three Navy Commendation Medals.

Sources: 12 Wisconsin Women Overlooked by History | Memorial Profile of Laurel Clark by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration | Biographical Profile of Laurel Clark by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration