Naval Commander William McCool, the son of a Marine and naval aviator, considered his father's impact to be the determining factor in his career choice.
"I think parental influence is probably the biggest motivator behind everything that's led me to become an astronaut," he said.
As pilot of space shuttle Columbia, McCool, 41, had logged 2,800 hours of flight experience in 24 aircraft and completed more than 400 carrier landings.
McCool, who grew up in Lubbock, Texas, graduated second of 1,083 in his class from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983, earning a bachelor's degree in applied science.
Two years later, he earned a master's degree in computer science from the University of Maryland, and then in 1992, he earned an additional master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.
McCool was selected by NASA in April 1996 and qualified for flight assignment as a pilot.
A former Eagle Scout, McCool was awarded commendation medals from the U.S. Navy. He also earned the "Outstanding Student" award after completing flight training in 1986.
Born on Sept. 23, 1961, in San Diego, his hobbies were running, mountain biking, hiking and camping, swimming and playing guitar and chess.
McCool expressed a fondness for his fellow crew members and considered their bond to be unique.
"We have such a new and young crew, and we worked together for so long, that the relationship is something you don't quite understand and you never really will understand until you get assigned to a flight," McCool said prior to Columbia's launch.
"We've done so much together and we're all kind of in that same boat. Either we've only flown once, or we've never flown, and the whole growth process together as a crew of seven has been something."
His spaceflight aboard Columbia was his first. McCool was a husband and father of three sons — ages 22, 19 and 14.