Astronaut shares his dream with students

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR Staff
khelms@starhq.com

   Former NASA astronaut Samuel T. Durrance shared his thoughts about last Saturday's space shuttle tragedy with Little Milligan Elementary students Wednesday, allaying their fears and encouraging them to realize their dreams.
   "I'm sure you're all a little shaken up by what has happened. I think we all are. It's a shock when we lose friends, when we lose people that we look up to like that. It's a little scary," Durrance said. "But I'm sure you've heard this from others: They were very bright, wonderful people. They were doing what they wanted to do. They were experiencing the wonders of discovery and learning about the mysteries of the universe in a way that very few of us ever get to do."
   The experience that Durrance had in orbit, he said, was one that he was not prepared for. "I think there's no way to prepare for it ... that feeling you get when you look back at the Earth and you see the Earth kind of floating around. ... It's a feeling that's kind of hard to describe."
   Earth is more beautiful than can be imagined, Durrance said. "It's not just a blue and white ball. It's every color and every picture you can imagine -- just vibrant. As you go around the Earth, you see things that you recognize from your map. You can see the whole continent of South America, for example. ... You can see from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, the mountains in between and the rainforests."
   Durrance said he became aware not only of how beautiful the Earth is, but how fragile. "The atmosphere, from your perspective, looks no thicker than a piece of paper or something -- it's just a thin little shell around the Earth. We don't normally think of it that way because compared to our size, it's still large and encompassing."
   Being propelled into space also can be scary, Durrance said. "That's one of the feelings that you have and think about -- how scary it is."
   And there are sometimes problems, as with Saturday's flight of the space shuttle Columbia. "But the technical problem is something that we will understand, and we will fix it," Durrance said.
   "We have an international space station in orbit now. We've got three people there. We have vehicles that can launch from Russia, and we have thousands of people who are involved in this program, trying to push the frontiers of our aspirations.
   "Those of you who might think about going into that as a profession, I would encourage you to consider it still. The risks, at times, are high; but like I said, we'll fix this problem and if we find another one, we'll fix that. And before long, the risk of getting into orbit and coming back from orbit will not be as high as it is today."
   Durrance promised to visit his sister, second-grade teacher Cathy Blair, and the students at Little Milligan, possibly later this year.
   "When I come I will certainly bring my flight suit and my pictures and be happy to share them," he said.