Profile of Columbia Commander Rick Husband

U.S. Air Force Col. Rick Husband was acting out a "lifelong dream" of traveling to space as he took off last month as commander of the space shuttle Columbia's final mission.

"It's been pretty much a lifelong dream and just a thrill to be able to get to actually live it out," said the 45-year-old before the launch of his second spaceflight.

Husband, a native of Amarillo, Texas, where he lived with his wife, Evelyn, and their two children, had served as a pilot on a previous mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery, and logged more than 235 hours in space.

"From the time I was about 4 years old, I wanted to be an astronaut," he said in his official NASA interview before his Columbia mission. "It was about that time when the Mercury program started up, and so I saw those things on the TV, and it just really excited me.

"From Mercury to Gemini to Apollo, watching the moon landings and everything, it was just so incredibly adventurous and exciting to me that I just thought, 'There is no doubt in my mind that that's what I want to do when I grow up,'" he added.

"As I grew up I became interested in math and science, and went to college at Texas Tech University, and had the good fortune of being able to join Air Force ROTC and get a pilot's slot," he said. "While I was at school at Texas Tech was about the time that they were hiring the first bunch of shuttle astronauts."

Path to Space

Husband asked what he had to do to become an astronaut and did it.

After earning his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Texas Tech University, he joined the U.S. Air Force and became a pilot. He then earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering from California State University, Fresno, in 1990.

He applied four times to become an astronaut and was interviewed twice before finally becoming one in 1994.

"It was the achievement of a lifelong dream and a goal," he said in his NASA interview. "It's very humbling, I'd say, and exciting at the same time, to be able to actually go and do … the thing that I had looked forward to doing for such a long time."

After the Columbia accident, former astronaut Gene Cernan, part of the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 that included humankind's longest and last stay on the moon, told Aaron Katersky of ABCNEWS affiliate KTRH Radio in Houston that he felt a kinship with Husband.

"Maybe it's because we have the same dreams and aspirations," Cernan said. "Maybe it's because at one point in time in our lives we all wanted to reach for the stars and do something different."

Husband's mother, Jane Husband of Amarillo, expressed her happiness for her son as she watched him accomplish his dream by taking off on a space shuttle mission in 1999.

"It was absolutely beautiful," she said. "I wasn't nervous about what he was doing because he worked so long and hard for it. But when that started lifting off, Mama started crying. It's different when your son is on it."