Following Shuttle Explosion, Subdued Crowds at Space Museum With PM-Shuttle-Congress Bjt
WASHINGTON (AP) _ In Space Hall, an airy, exhilarating wing of the world’s most popular museum, the mood was subdued as people paid quiet tribute to the seven dead astronauts.
For hours on end Thursday, as if drawn by a magnet, out-of-town tourists and bureaucrats on their lunch breaks crowded around the National Air and Space Museum’s model of the space shuttle, similiar to the Challenger that exploded Tuesday, killing its crew.
Donna Terbell said she and her husband, Bud, felt compelled to visit the museum in their last hours in the city before returning home to Chicago.
After the tragedy, the ″spectacular place″ renewed her optimism, Mrs. Terbell said. ″We’re all pioneers in the space program,″ she said, adding: ″They went doing what they wanted to do.″
As visitors peered through the glass barriers protecting the model, their words were spoken softly - if they spoke at all.
Normally rambunctious school children obeyed their teachers and the museum guards, who warned ″Don’t touch 3/8″ as youngsters tried to press their faces against the glass.
″That’s her, that’s the teacher,″ said Gerry Seedyke, pointing out a picture of teacher-astronaut Christa McAuliffe to his second-graders from nearby Capitol Hill Day School.
A black-bordered plaque displaying a group picture of the crew, smiling broadly in their space suits, was tacked to the glass. Many tourists snapped their own pictures.
On the floor, someone had placed a glass vase of slightly wilted red roses, along with a card. ″There will always be a home in my heart for you - CWS,″ it read.
″I cried when it happened,″ said 8-year-old Kenan Willis, one of Seedyke’s students, who had asked his teacher to arrange Thursday’s museum field trip.
Opened in 1976, the museum is designed to honor man’s accomplishments in air and space. It is the most popular museum in the world and the hottest tourist attraction in the nation’s capital, spokeswoman Rita Cipalla said.
About 10 million people a year traipse through the building, the home of a dazzling array of flying machines and spacecraft, including the Wright brothers’ original 1903 Flyer, Charles Lindbergh’s ″Spirit of St. Louis,″ a touchable moon rock and a Skylab Orbital Workshop.
On Thursday, attention focused on the space shuttle exhibit. Museum officials did not have exact figures, but they speculated attendance was up because of the explosion.
There was a picture of Judith Resnik, the second woman astronaut, making a parachute landing during training at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
And there was Ronald McNair, the second black astronaut, looking like a robot in his space suit.
Both died Tuesday.
For Anthony McCutcheon, 30, of Lake Lucerne, N.Y., the visit was particularly poignant because he grew up in Lake City, S.C., the small tobacco-growing town where McNair was raised.
″He was respected; everybody looked up to him,″ said McCutcheon, a field engineer.
Also popular Thursday was ″The Dream Is Alive,″ the museum’s thrilling 40-minute movie in which viewers see pictures of Earth from the shuttle, and catch a glimpse of how astronauts live while circling the world every 90 minutes at 17,000 mph.
Filmed on earlier shuttle flights, the movie is narrated by former television anchorman Walter Cronkite.
Among its stars are Resnik, who is shown performing delicate technical feats in space as well as eating and sleeping in a gravity-less environment. Francis ″Dick″ Scobee, the Challenger’s commander, is also pictured.
Museum officials have not made any decisions yet on whether there will be a permanent exhibit to honor the seven dead astronauts.
″We would like to do something more elaborate ... but things happened so quickly this week that we haven’t had time to plan,″ Cipalla said.
For now, many seem content just to pass through the halls decorated to honor America’s air and space programs and the men and women who run them.
Jeff Swartzbaugh, a Washington attorney, said simply: ″I wanted to come by to pay tribute.″