Pilot William McCool, 41, was a navy commander who grew up in Lubbock, Texas. He graduated second in his 1983 class at the Naval Academy, went on to test pilot school and became an astronaut in 1996.
McCool was an experienced Navy pilot with more than 2,800 hours in flight. But two weeks into his first space trip, he was bursting with amazement.
"There is so much more than what I ever expected," McCool told National Public Radio on Jan. 30 from the space shuttle Columbia. "It's beyond imagination, until you actually get up and see it and experience it and feel it."