Gregory B. Jarvis, one of the seven crew members killed when the space shuttle Challenger exploded Jan. 28, was more than a national celebrity to Hughes Aircraft Co. employees in El Segundo.
He was one of them.
At noon Monday, the day Jarvis was scheduled to return home, about 800 Hughes employees crowded into a tiny courtyard between two high-rise buildings to pay homage to their fallen co-worker.
Most stood with hands clasped behind their backs or arms folded as they listened to five speakers--including fellow engineers and Jarvis' alternate for the shuttle mission.
"Here at Hughes we are especially pained by this tragedy because we have lost a friend and a comrade," said David Braverman, the Hughes Aircraft manager who hired Jarvis in 1972. "He understood and respected the shuttle assignment . . . and despite this tragedy, I think he would have wanted us to get on with the job of conquering the future of space."
Shared His Joy
Said Hughes engineer Stephen Cunningham, "All of us shared in Greg's joy as he was selected as the first Hughes payload specialist. Many wanted to be in his position."
Jarvis and fellow engineer John H. Konrad were selected from a pool of 600 Hughes employees who applied to conduct experiments for the aircraft company during space shuttle missions. Cunningham is designated as Konrad's alternate on a future shuttle flight.
As Cunningham continued, soft sobs rose from the audience. "I applied for the shuttle program," said one employee. "It could have been me."
Cunningham praised Jarvis' strength and humility. He recalled that Jarvis, at his own expense, created personalized plaques for the employees who prepared the fluid dynamics experiments he carried with him on board the shuttle.
"Those employees will cherish those plaques for many years to come," Cunningham said.
Cunningham said Jarvis was not afraid of death. "We talked about the risks and the possibility that we could die," he said. "We didn't dwell on it. It was just one of those necessary details that had to be addressed and then put aside."
Other speakers told stories that drew both smiles and tears from the audience, as employees were reminded of Jarvis' habits and quirks.
"We all remember your passion for bike riding," said Dr. Jim Wada, Jarvis' first supervisor at the Hughes Space and Communications group 13 years ago. "It was not enough for you to ride your bicycle every day between your home and work; I also remember some early morning bike treks to Hughes in Fullerton and that the riding clothes you kept in your office nearly caused a health hazard on those hot summer days."
Wada's remembrance sparked a wave of laughter from the audience.
Through scores of national memorial services, no one had quite captured what Jarvis meant to Hughes and its employees, said company spokesman Richard Dore. The aircraft company plans to build a memorial for Jarvis at the El Segundo complex.
Jarvis also was being remembered elsewhere in the South Bay this week. In Hermosa Beach, where the 41-year-old engineer lived with his wife, Marsha, the message on the signboard at the Hermosa Beach Community Center is dedicated to the Challenger astronauts, and the City Council plans to discuss a scholarship fund in Jarvis' honor at a council meeting next week.
Jarvis' colleagues said the engineer would have been embarrassed by such attention. Though his transition from space science engineer to astronaut brought him relative stardom, his colleagues said he remained unchanged.
"This honor could have easily gone to one's head," said William Butterworth, the Hughes alternate for the Jan. 28 flight, at Monday's memorial gathering. "Greg didn't let that happen to him."
Butterworth advised the audience not to dwell on Jarvis' death but rather to honor him by continuing with the space program.
"What could be more fitting for a man of action than to die doing what he loved to do?" Butterworth asked. "If we take Greg's qualities and share them with others then Greg will be with us forever."