Lost in the anonymity of space suits and helmets - traveling in the shield of technology - were seven lives.
The Early Show National Correspondent Jon Frankel, who reviews those lives, reports that Columbia's last mission had one of the youngest shuttle crews ever. Four of the seven were making their first trip into space.
Mission Commander Colonel Rick Husband's ascent to space was about perseverance. It took four tries before NASA's selected him. In 1999, he piloted the shuttle Discovery, the first to dock with the International Space Station. His passions were skiing, biking and singing. His loves - his wife and two children.
Columbia's pilot was 41-year-old Commander William McCool, on his first trip into space.
"I had this natural inclination for flying," he once said.
Married with three sons, McCool was second in his class at the Naval Academy where he ran cross-country. On Columbia, the 41-year-old sports fan carried a "spirit" towel for his high school football team in Lubbock, Texas.
Daniel Salton described his older sister, Dr. Laurel Salton Clark, as always looking for the next challenge. At 41, the Wisconsin native was a surgeon and a Navy commander who loved animals. From space, she wrote to her husband and son, "Hello from above our magnificent planet Earth."
Captain David Brown challenged gravity. A star gymnast in high school, a circus acrobat and a biology wiz, he became a doctor first and then a Navy pilot. Brown, 46, kept a telescope aimed at the moon.
"It doesn't really matter what job you have as an astronaut, you just climb right into it," he had said of his chosen career.
Dr. Kalpana Chawla loved India, but she moved to the U.S. to pursue another love - a career in space. One of her teachers called her brilliant but modest. In 1997, she became the first-Indian born woman in space, and a national hero in India.
A 48-year-old Israeli fighter pilot, Col. Ilan Ramon moved his wife and four children to Houston to train for this mission. He felt he represented not only his country, but all Jews, in space.
"My mother is a Holocaust survivor," he said before liftoff. "She was in Auschwitz, my father fought for the independence of Israel, so it's very exciting for me to able to fulfill their dream that they wouldn't dare to dream."
Friends say Lt. Col. Michael Anderson would have stood out, even if he hadn't become an astronaut. A toy airplane, a gift at age 3, determined the destiny of the 43-year-old African American. He had said he hoped his career in space gives hope to the kids back home in Spokane, Wash. Columbia was his second mission in space.
"We've all worked very closely together," he said toward the end of the mission. "It's been a lot of fun. I think, when I look back on this flight years from now, one of the things I'll appreciate is the friendships I've made with my crew mates."