- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

WASHINGTON, Va. Paul and Dorothy Brown were anxiously watching TV reports yesterday when they received a phone call telling them that NASA had lost contact with the Space Shuttle Columbia.
"We thought it was just one little hitch," Mrs. Brown said.
"They lost touch with the shuttle. I think this is serious," Paul Brown, a retired Arlington County circuit judge, recalled thinking.
Their son Navy Capt. David M. Brown was a mission specialist onboard.
With tear-filled eyes but steady voices, the Browns expressed parental pride as they told reporters how they were trying to reconcile themselves to the loss of the Columbia and their son.
"We haven't gotten there yet," Judge Brown said. "It's going to hit later."
"We're still in shock," Mrs. Brown added.
The couple pointed out a memento of their son, a photograph of the Columbia crew autographed by each of the seven members. They had placed the photo on a recliner in their secluded rancher just outside this rural town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 70 miles west of the District.
Capt. Brown's parents offered a steady stream of stories about their son, never allowing a pause in the conversation to become an awkward silence.
"I told him I'd be thinking about him all the time," Judge Brown said of Jan. 15, the eve of his first space mission.
The Browns said that before the launch, Capt. Brown's older brother, Douglas, asked him what would happen if he died in space. The astronaut said, "Well, the program must go on." The couple echoed that sentiment yesterday.
Capt. Brown, 46, was born and raised in Arlington, and was a 1974 graduate of Yorktown High School there. He was carrying on the shuttle an American flag that had been taken to the top of Mount Everest by another Yorktown graduate.
"I'm going to get it a little bit higher up, but I won't have to walk as far to get it there," he said before the launch.
"We all had a lot of pride that a former student of our school was on the space mission, and now we feel a lot of sorrow and pride," Yorktown principal Raymond Pasi said.
Though none of Capt. Brown's teachers still works at the school, Mr. Pasi said the astronaut called him about a year ago to ask whether there was anything from the school that he could take on the space shuttle.
"He had a special affection for Yorktown High School," Mr. Pasi said. "We feel a special connection with him."
Yesterday, the school's alumni Web site expressed grief about the loss of Capt. Brown and his fellow crew members.
In the days before Columbia's launch, the school showed pictures of Capt. Brown as a high school student and as an astronaut on closed-circuit televisions in every classroom.
Yorktown High alumni have suffered more than their share of loss in the past 18 months.
Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, a 1962 alumnus, died in an October plane crash. Emily Couric, a prominent Democratic politician in Virginia and sister of Katie Couric, died of cancer in October 2001. David Charlebois, 39, was first officer on American Airlines Flight 77 when terrorists crashed the plane into the Pentagon on September 11.
In Richmond, Delegate James F. Almand, Arlington Democrat, remembered when David Brown was his neighbor and in grade school.
"He was a nice kid," said Mr. Almand, 54, who yesterday introduced a resolution honoring Capt. Brown's achievements. The House of Delegates adjourned in honor of the Columbia crew.
Capt. Brown was a graduate of the College of William & Mary. He told incoming freshmen there in September that the chances of his dying in a space accident were nothing compared with the risks taken by the founders of the college in the 1690s.
"Over his life, James Blair made five trips and 10 crossings of the Atlantic Ocean that were dedicated to the founding of the university. Each voyage was extremely risky," the college newspaper quoted Capt. Brown as saying. "I think my chances of making it back are far better than were Blair's."
Capt. Brown was a varsity gymnast at William & Mary when he got a phone call one day asking whether he would join the circus. So during the summer of 1976, he performed as an acrobat, tumbler, stilt walker and rider of a 7-foot-tall unicycle.
"What I really learned from that, and transfers directly to what I'm doing on this crew, is kind of the teamwork and the safety and the staying focused, even at the end of a long day when you're tired and you're doing some things that may have some risk to them," he said.
Capt. Brown, a Navy pilot and a physician, received his undergraduate biology degree from William & Mary in 1978 and earned his medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School, in Norfolk, in 1982. In the Navy, he went on to fly the A-6E Intruder and FA-18 Hornet.
NASA chose him as an astronaut in 1996. A mission specialist, he helped with scientific experiments on the space shuttle. He worked the overnight shift on Columbia's round-the-clock science mission. He was the only unmarried member of the shuttle's crew.
Capt. Brown said Friday from orbit that the crew was looking forward to coming home.
"As much as we've enjoyed it up here, we're also starting to look forward to seeing all the people back on Earth that we miss and love so much," he said.
Jon Ward in Arlington and Mary Shaffrey in Richmond contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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