- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2003

A 20-foot scale model of the Space Shuttle Columbia at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum had been placed there to anchor an exhibit celebrating the world's first reusable spacecraft.
By the time the museum opened at 10 a.m. Saturday, the model had turned into a memorial.
Visitors to the museum yesterday lingered in front of a folding table covered in blue fabric that had been placed at the base of the model. On the table they placed flowers, condolence cards, candles, an American flag and a Torah.
Visitors moved past the table silently, most of them careful not to obstruct the view of the many others taking photographs.
In Greenbelt, some workers were wearing black as they returned to their jobs at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Space Flight Center. Some brought flowers and left them at the main entrance.
And students at an ill-starred high school in Arlington, Yorktown High School, returned to class for another in a series of lessons in grief.
The Goddard workers returned to the same desks, the same schedules, the same lunch breaks, but nothing was truly the same. Many stole glances at televisions to stay updated. Others obtained information from the Internet.
As part of the NASA family, they felt the loss. But they also worried about their own fates.
"We are awaiting word on a memorial service … some way that we can properly pay our respects and say our goodbyes," said Ann Jenkins, who works with the Hubble Space Telescope Development Project. "And we are also waiting to hear what will happen to us. Realistically, we know that some of our jobs will not survive."
Students at Yorktown High School pondered the fate of some of their school's most illustrious graduates.
Astronaut David M. Brown, Yorktown class of 1974, a 46-year-old astronaut and U.S. Navy captain, died Saturday when the Columbia exploded over Texas.
In October, U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone and his wife, Sheila, both of the Yorktown class of 1962, died along with six others when their charter plane crashed in Minnesota.
And on that infamous day of September 11, David Charlebois, Yorktown class of 1980, died when terrorists hijacked the jetliner he was flying, American Airlines Flight 77, and crashed it into the Pentagon.
"We've been going through sadness since we got here," said Yorktown sophomore Booanchira Pitayatonakai, whose first month at the school was marked by the terrorist attacks.
At the Air and Space Museum, visitors from as varied and far-away places as Istanbul, Shanghai, Oslo, Cyprus and Jerusalem wrote messages in a guest book provided by the museum. The guest book will go into the museum's archives, joining similar guest books containing the thoughts of visitors in January 1986 on the loss of the space shuttle Challenger and its crew.
"With great respect, I offer what little condolences I can give," an anonymous visitor from the District wrote. "Thank you for your valor, honor and dignity."
"You still live in those who dream," wrote a visitor from Seattle.
"Press on higher, farther, faster," wrote a visitor from Rockville.
Andrea Cooke, 37, of Silver Spring, was among the hundreds who signed the memorial book yesterday. Mrs. Cooke saw Columbia on a trip to Cape Canaveral in the spring. She said the experience made shuttle missions feel more personal.
"I was just in total shock," she said about hearing of Columbia's fate. "I just felt like I had to come down here."
Mike McCormick, 46, of Long Island, N.Y., spent an hour sketching the exhibit, a 20-foot scale model of Columbia on a launchpad poised for takeoff. Mr. McCormick, an air-traffic-control manager, said the sketching would help him capture his thoughts and feelings.
"There's a reason why this is the most popular museum in the country," Mr. McCormick said. "These are brave folks who go up there and take these risks. These folks epitomize the character of our country."
Kathleen Hanser, a museum spokeswoman, said the guest books were set out Sunday morning. She said people had been leaving mementos since Saturday afternoon.
"They just started showing up, and we tried to accommodate them," Mrs. Hanser said.
She said there are no plans to alter the exhibit or to incorporate the Columbia disaster into any of the museum's exhibits.
"It's just too early to think about anything like that," she said.
At Goddard on Friday it had been announced to employees that the next Hubble mission would be Nov. 18, 2004. The announcement said the Hubble payload would be carried by the shuttle Columbia.
After the Challenger explosion 17 years ago, the space program stalled for almost three years. Many NASA workers and contractors lost their jobs.
"We are still in shock. It feels like we lost family members, but we will return to space,"said Russ Werneth, who has trained astronauts for NASA for a dozen years.
"In the spirit of NASA, we will bounce back," he said.
Miss Jenkins mourned for the Columbia itself.
"She was NASA's first shuttle, and she was the vehicle we used on our last Hubble mission … the venerable old gray lady of the fleet," Miss Jenkins said.
And at Yorktown High School yesterday, a bouquet of roses lay next to an American flag and a handwritten note under a tree in front of the school.
"Your earthbound friends salute you God bless you for your goodness and patriotism we will miss you," two of Capt. Brown's fellow '74 Yorktown classmates had written.
Sophomore Lincoln Nesbit, 15, lamented the death of another alumnus. "It's another loss for Yorktown," Lincoln said. "It's really too bad because it's a great school."
Capt. Brown was raised in Arlington and received his undergraduate biology degree from the College of William & Mary in 1978. He earned a medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk in 1982. In the Navy, he flew A-6E Intruders and FA-18 Hornets.
NASA chose him as an astronaut in 1996. The Columbia mission was his first trip into space.
The deaths of Capt. Brown, the Wellstones and Mr. Charlebois created conflicting emotions among Yorktown students.
"I'm proud because so many important people come out of Yorktown and do so well," said senior Kevin Yost, 18. But "it's strange that they keep dying. It's a little bit scary."
The day at Yorktown began with an address from Principal Raymond Pasi over the intercom.
"Our school community lost another accomplished, distinguished graduate this past weekend," he said.
Students and teachers and staff stood for a moment of silence. Phones rang unanswered in the school office. Student Laura Comeau broke the silence by leading the Pledge of Allegiance over the intercom.

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