U.S. Navy Captain Laurel Salton Clark’s path to becoming an astronaut evolved over time. Clark said that while growing up she had an interest in the environment and animals.
“I was interested in the Moon landings just about the same as everyone else of my generation,” she said. “But, I never really thought about being an astronaut or working in space myself. I was very interested in environment and ecosystems and animals.” She said her parents were a huge influence on her life when she was a child. “They always expected the most out of all of us,” she said, “and expected us to do our very best.”
Clark graduated from William Horlick High School in Racine, Wis., in 1979. The following eight years of her life were spent at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She earned a bachelor’s degree in science in zoology in 1983 and doctorate in medicine in 1987.
“… the eight years that I spent at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I have incredibly fond memories of,” Clark said. “I did my undergraduate work there in zoology. And then followed it up with the four years in medical school. And it’s a beautiful place, with four seasons up in Wisconsin, and really wonderful people.”
Her path to becoming an astronaut included being a member of the U.S. Navy. During her time in the Navy, Clark became an undersea medical officer. While stationed in Scotland, she dove with divers and performed numerous medical evacuations from U.S. submarines. Later, she became a flight surgeon.
“I joined the Navy and was exposed to a lot of different operational environments, working on submarines and working in tight quarters on ships, and learning about radiation medicine,” Clark said. “And it was really just sort of a natural progression when I learned about NASA and what astronauts do, and the type of things that they are expected to do, that I thought about the things I had done so far and became more interested in that as a career.”
NASA selected Clark as an astronaut candidate in 1996. She successfully completed her training and evaluation. Prior to receiving her first flight assignment, she worked in the Astronaut Office Payloads/Habitability Branch.
“Laurel Salton Clark was a physician and a flight surgeon who loved adventure, loved her work, loved her husband and her son,” he said. “A friend who heard Laurel speaking to Mission Control said there was a smile in her voice. Laurel conducted some of the experiments as Columbia orbited the Earth and described seeing new life emerged from a tiny cocoon. ‘Life,’ she said, ‘continues in a lot of places and life is a magical thing.'”