Columbia astronauts visit WPI

The 14 inches of snow that arrived in Worcester the evening of April 9 and the morning of April 10 welcomed the crew of the second U.S. Microgravity Laboratory (USML-2) as they arrived on campus for a full day of activities for the WPI community and invit ed guests.

The USML-2 mission that lifted off aboard the space shuttle Columbia on Oct. 20 traveled in space for 15 days, 21 hours and 52 minutes - making it the second longest shuttle flight and the most successful scientific mission to date.

WPI's theme for the day, "Countdown to Tomorrow, Building Educational Partnerships for the 21st Century," highlighted an important NASA objective: establishing partnerships between higher education, precollege educators, government and industry to stimulate interest among young people in science, mathematics and engineering.

WPI chemical engineering Professor and Department Head Albert Sacco Jr., one of the seven space shuttle astronauts, was instrumental in bringing the crew and the two backup crew members to the campus. "This was an event unprecedented on campus," said President Parrish. "The crew furthered the mission of education and excited our nation's youth."

Middle and high school students were part of a question-and-answer session with the astronauts. Included in the audience were some of the 22 students who took part in the downlink from Columbia to Worcester's South High Community School, when experiments were conducted in space and at the school. Sacco was part of the downlink, which was later transmitted to 40,000 high school classrooms throughout the country.

More than 1,500 people braved the snowstorm to attend the special April 10 community celebration in Harrington Auditorium, where they saw a video and a slide presentation projected on a giant screen. The crew fielded questions after the presentation. Eight of the nine members of the Columbia microgravity laboratory crew were present. Only astronaut Kent Rominger, who piloted the Columbia, was unable to attend because he was in training for another shuttle mission. Sen. Edward Kennedy was to be a special guest but was unable to come because of Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown's funeral in Washington, D.C. Another honored guest, Grace Corrigan, mother of Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe, could not be present because of the weather.

The WPI community and guests concluded the day with a reception for flight commander Kenneth D. Bowersox; payload commander Kathryn C. Thornton; mission specialists Michael E. Lopez-Alegria and Catherine Coleman; payload specialists Sacco and Fred W. Leslie; and alternate payload specialists David H. Matthiesen and R. Glynn Holt.

In his closing remarks, President Parrish noted, "We have witnessed a living demonstration of partnership and cooperation, the value of education, the excitement of space travel, and the strength of individuals who, when part of a team - however large or small - can accomplish almost anything when focused upon as a priority."

Also available is the day in pictures:
Countdown to Tomorrow, April 12, 1996

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Last modified: Thu Jun 10 10:37:31 EDT 1999