Columbia Astronauts Honored at Super Bowl
By MARK BABINECK
The Associated Press
Sunday, February 1, 2004; 10:52 PM
HOUSTON - The NFL honored the seven astronauts who died a year ago Sunday when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas. The on-field homage before the Super Bowl, punctuated by the rock band Aerosmith and crooner Josh Groban, included the seven members of the next planned mission. Some relatives of the Columbia crew attended the game, but stayed out of the spotlight.
Eileen Collins, who will command Atlantis on the next shuttle mission as early as September, said she appreciated the tribute and was glad the space program went along with it.
"I thought about them the whole time," Collins said. "I think they were with us today, and I think they're glad NASA didn't say no."
NASA and the NFL had several discussions the past few months trying to achieve the proper tenor for the pregame, said Andrew Thomas, a mission specialist preparing for his fourth flight.
"This should be an uplifting and exciting day so we don't dwell on the unpleasantness of the past and look to the promise of the future," said Thomas, who will operate the shuttle's robotic arms and orchestrate spacewalks.
Astronaut Michael Foale, currently aboard the international space station, beamed home a brief message for the Reliant Stadium crowd to end the tribute.
"That's it from space. Enjoy the game, and good day from the international space station."
Cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, sitting beside Foale, added a "Dosvidanya" for the audience.
DELAY OF GAME:@ Fans patiently moved through extremely tight security outside Reliant Stadium before the game.
Throngs gathered long before the gates opened. As fans entered, their bags and jackets were searched, they were patted down and they moved through metal detectors.
"I'd rather be safe, you know," said Mike Schuster, who lives a mile from New England's home stadium in Foxboro, Mass. "Besides, it kind of tickled and I made a new friend."
Schuster and his friend, Rob Ekho of Los Angeles, were among the most conspicuous fans.
Schuster's head was shaved on the sides, where he had the Patriots' logo painted. The remainder of his hair was spiked in New England's red, silver and blue. Ekho's shaved head was decorated in Patriots' colors.
© 2004 The Associated Press