Astronauts William McCool and Laurel Clark — both 41 years-old — left behind children who watched their worst fears come true when Columbia broke up in the skies over Texas.
Family members of the Columbia crew say they knew of the risks and held their fear in the bottom of their hearts and the back of their minds.
Job No. 1: Mom
Clark of Racine, Wis., was an astronaut, a submarine medical officer and a flight surgeon, but she often told her 8 year-old son, Ian, that her most important job was being his mother.
Clark's brother, Dan Salton, said the young boy never wanted his mother to go on the Columbia mission
"Actually he told me, he said 'Dan I wish you could go, cause I want to see the launch but I don't want my mommy to go,'" Salton said.
The day before she lost her life on Columbia, Salton said he received an e-mail from his sister about how much she was enjoying her first flight aboard the space shuttle.
She wrote, "I have seen some incredible sights" — and described her view of lightning flashing over the Pacific, the city lights of Australia and a crescent moon setting over the Earth.
She also thanked her family and friends for supporting her adventures. Her closing words were "Love to all, Laurel."
Salton said his sister was an amazing woman who died doing what she loved.
"I think everyone's getting to know her a little bit," Salton told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "I think the story of all seven of the astronauts is coming out. And I think we're finding that they're all remarkable people and that she was one of seven who had a lot to contribute and was very thrilled to be part of the NASA program and what she was able to do and wanted to contribute her part and she just loved doing what she was doing," he said.
For Clark's aunt and uncle, Betty and Doug Haviland, the Columbia disaster marked the second time in just over a year that they found out a loved one had perished while watching TV.
The Havilands lost their son Timothy, who was also 41 years old, in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
"We had a memorial service in November of that year of the disaster and Laurel and Ian were both at the memorial service," Betty Haviland said. "And Tim had wanted very much to go down and see the launch but it was not to be."
Doug Haviland said family members of the astronauts couldn't help worrying about their loved ones, and what might happen to them during the launch, the mission and the re-entry.
"Well, certainly you get an uneasy feeling in the back of your mind I think," he said.
Betty Haviland says she hopes their niece will be remembered as someone very special.
"She was a loving woman and we'll miss her very much," she said.
William McCool Was Born to Fly
Cmdr. William McCool was known as "Cool Willie" during his high school days at Lubbock Coronado High School in Texas.
No one who knew him was surprised by his amazing success.
The former Eagle Scout graduated second of 1,083 in his class from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983.
The husband and father of three had always wanted to fly and his family said he was thrilled when he found out he would be a part of the Columbia mission.
His parents, Audrey and Barry McCool, both have a background in the military, but they said there is nothing that can prepare parents for the loss of a child.
"When it comes to your doorstep it's harder to take," Audrey McCool said on Good Morning America.