Ties To Tragedy, Queens Copes Aftermath Of
Aftermath OfShuttle Disaster
It was an unforeseen event that occurred thousands of feet from the Earth and miles away from New York, but distance could not keep the shockwaves of grief resulting from the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster from reverberating throughout Queens this week.
Borough Hall to Grand Avenue, flags flew at half-staff to honor the memories
of the seven Columbia crewmembers who perished in a fiery return into the
Earth’s atmosphere on Feb 1.
houses of worship, schools and museums, Queensites tried to come to terms
with the loss.
And for one well-known borough resident that knows how it feels to have a loved one take part in three Space Shuttle missions, learning that Columbia’s crew would not be returning home was especially unsettling.
Former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman whose daughter, NASA Astronaut Ellen Shulman Baker, has flown on three space shuttle missions including a trip aboard Columbia in 1992, found it difficult to talk about the disaster.
heart goes out to the families. It was absolutely a terrible tragedy,”
said she was unable to provide any information about the role her daughter
was playing in the investigation into Saturday’s disaster, but she
indicated that all of the astronauts are”. . . very upset.”
At presstime, Baker was unable to be reached, but a NASA spokesperson told the Tribune that all current astronauts “are helping with the investigation and working with the families” of those lost in the Columbia disaster.
Astronaut Ellen Shulman Baker graduated from Bayside High School in 1970, attended college and went on to earn degrees in medicine and public health, according to NASA.
later joined NASA in the role of medical officer at the Lyndon B. Johnson
Space Center in Houston, Texas.
was officially given the title of astronaut in June 1985 and since has
worked in a variety of roles to move forward the Space Shuttle program and
Space Station development.
has a total of nearly 700 hours spent in space.
1989, Baker was a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Atlantis
during a mission when the crew launched the Galileo probe to explore
1992, Baker was aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia for the first flight of
the US Microgravity Laboratory and the first “extended duration orbiter
flight” when crewmembers conducted science experiments involving
biological and combustion science, crystal growth and fluid physics.
the 331 hour-flight, Baker and crew traveled nearly 5.7 million miles in 221
orbits of the earth.
1995, Baker was a crewmember aboard the shuttle Atlantis when it became the
first shuttle to dock with the Russian space station Mir.
Baker currently serves as the NASA’s Lead Astronaut for Medical Issues, and the astronaut representative to the Education Working Group at Lyndon Johnson Space Center.
At P.S. 193 in Whitestone, a bronze model tribute to the memory of the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger became a focal point for reflection and new meaning for students and teachers there.
Monday, Feb. 4, students and faculty of the pre-kindergarten through sixth
grade school observed a moment of silence to honor the lost crewmembers of
Columbia and “teachers are answering questions [about the Columbia
disaster],” said P.S. 193 Principal Joyce Bush.
to Bush, P.S. 193 Science Teacher Eugene Englese and students are also in
the initial planning stages of forming a committee to “do something” for
the families of the Columbia astronauts – “something” similar to what
staff and students at the school did immediately following the 1986
explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.
to former P.S. 193 principal Mildred Schwartz, the idea for a replica of the
Challenger as a memorial on school grounds was the brainchild of
then-Resource Room Teacher Mark Rosenberg, who now teaches at P.S. 250.
who was principal of PS 193 from 1973-1989, recalled that many of the
school’s students were gathered in the auditorium to watch Challenger on
what became a fateful take-off.
“We felt it was appropriate,” Schwartz about the model tribute that remains.
best way to cope with hard-to-explain events like the Columbia Disaster is
to talk about it, according to one local expert.
Javier, a Dr. of Psychology at St. John’s University and director of the
school’s Center of Psychological Services and Clinical Studies said events
like Sept. 11, talk of an impending war with Iraq and last week’s Space
Shuttle disaster can leave us with feelings of vulnerability.
are things that we don’t understand . . . and there are feelings of
uncertainty among parents themselves, Javier said. “The whole country is
going thorough this.”
said the best thing for parents to tell children is that they are there to
support and “protect” them.
Javier also suggested that parents try not to minimize these “difficult times,” write to their political representatives to let them know how they are feeling and “try to spend more time with loved ones.”
President Helen Marshall said Borough Hall is planning one or more major
events to honor the Columbia astronauts.
want to encourage children to think about the future, because space
exploration is about the future,” Marshall told the Tribune indicating
that any future event(s) will try to involve Astronaut Ellen Shulman Baker
and/or students and teachers at Jackson Heights’ P.S. 149, named after
lost Challenger astronaut Christa McCauliffe.
said the fact that those aboard Columbia had few ties to Queens had little
to do with any upcoming tributes
“They did this for our country, and that’s enough of a connection,” Marshall said.
Shulman Baker is not the only Queensite to take part in missions aboard a
Navy captain and NASA astronaut James Wetherbee was born in Flushing in 1952
and has been involved in six shuttle missions, including two aboard
was selected as an astronaut in 1985.
piloted Columbia during his first shuttle mission in 1990 and was mission
commander on his second shuttle flight – also aboard Columbia in 1992 –
and has logged over 1,592 hours in space
was aboard shuttle flights in 1995, 1997, 2001 and 2002.
Wetherbee currently resides in Huntington Station, NY according to his NASA bio.
the New York Hall of Science, work is currently underway to restore the
rockets that once stood inside Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
the rocket park was erected as part of the 1964 World’s Fair.
U.S. Space Park exhibit was the site where rookie astronaut Neil Armstrong
signed autographs for children who had no way of knowing that he would
become the first man to walk on the surface of the moon in 1969.
display was a Titan Rocket with a Gemini capsule and an Atlas rocket with a
park closed in 1984, but in 2001, the rockets were removed for restoration
and museum officials indicated that rocket park is expected to re-open
within the next two years.
in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the Unisphere, constructed as the
centerpiece of the 1964-65 World’s Fair, was built as a monument to the
Unisphere is encircled by three intertwining rings that pay tribute to the
first Russian manned space flight, the first telecommunications satellite
–Telstar – and the first manned, American space flight.