'Diaries' Profiles Astronauts of Ill-Fated Shuttle

By Kathy Blumenstock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 8, 2005

I mages of astronauts in action, beamed home via NASA cameras, have long been a staple of American television. But more candid, casual scenes are rare, and these are the focus of a program spotlighting the close-knit crew of the space shuttle Columbia.

Airing a week before shuttle flights are scheduled to resume with a planned May 22 launch, "Astronaut Diaries: Remembering the Columbia Shuttle Crew" features footage shot by astronaut Dave Brown, an Arlington native who was aboard Columbia's fatal 2003 mission.

Brown, a 1974 graduate of Yorktown High School in Arlington, had planned to make a film about his lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut, and recorded fellow crew members during their training.

Besides time spent in the simulator, Brown also photographed bike rides, high-fives and the excitement of launch-day preparations. "He wanted to be able to distribute something via the astronauts," said Brown's brother, Doug. "When they'd go out to speak, this would be a way for them to have a tape about the training."

The crew -- Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Ilan Ramon, and Brown -- perished on Feb. 1, 2003, when Columbia, the oldest member of the shuttle fleet, disintegrated when it reentered the Earth's atmosphere.

In "Astronaut Diaries," Brown's footage -- shot on digital videocassettes -- is coupled with interviews with astronauts' family members, who reflect on the astronauts' observations throughout their two-year wait for the flight.

Brown's brother hopes the program will show what the Columbia astronauts were like as people. The show, he said, "isn't an essay on 'Why did the shuttle crash?' or 'What is intelligent risk?' This is about leaving a legacy."

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