I was asked to write something for the online Space Hipsters group about one of the astronauts who passed away during the 2003 Columbia space shuttle tragedy, who NASA is honoring this week.
I met Dave Brown only once, on a humid Florida summer night in 1999. Eileen Collins was about to launch on her first shuttle command - the first of any woman - and the VIP viewing area at the Cape was packed with a who's who of space notables. Andy Chaikin and I ran into Jerry Ross and Dave wandering under the Saturn V rocket display. Jerry was by then an old hand, having flown six times in space - he'd go on a seventh mission a few years later. Dave, in contrast, was a wide-eyed rookie, enjoying Jerry's guiding hand and excited about his own space future.
He may have been relatively new to the astronaut business, but he already had a very impressive career behind him. A flight surgeon on US Navy aircraft carriers, he oversaw the primary medical care for a floating city of aviators and support personnel, so the carrier remained at operational readiness. Then, for the first time in a decade, the Navy allowed a flight surgeon - Dave - to begin pilot training. It was a wise decision, as he came first in his class, and was soon flying jets from carriers deployed in the Pacific. Selected by NASA in 1996, it made sense to assign him to STS-107, due to the large number of biomedical-related experiments. After I met him, Dave sent me a note expressing how lucky he felt to be assigned to that flight.
A joyous, upbeat person by all accounts, I was glad to have experienced his positivity first-hand and seen that, although his only spaceflight ended in tragedy, he was able to experience almost sixteen days of challenge and excitement on the space mission he had worked so hard all of his life to fly.