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Condolences Flow From Children to Families of the Lost Astronauts

February 27, 1986|DEBORAH HASTINGS

Carolyn Prescott had a special message for the family of astronaut Michael J. Smith, who was killed with the six other crew members on board the space shuttle Challenger.

"I know what you're going through because my father died in a crash several years ago," the eighth-grader at San Gabriel Christian School told her fellow classmates and parents last week.

"I still have an empty place in my heart for him. But God's love and the assurance of friends have helped to fill that gap."

Prescott's message, in the form of a letter to the astronaut's family, was one of eight read at a special assembly of the school's 650 students. The ceremony, commemorating patriotism, was dedicated to the "seven courageous astronauts from God's children at San Gabriel Christian School."

In a service marked by prayer, the Star Spangled Banner and a speech by astronaut Stephen Cunningham, representatives from each grade at the San Gabriel school read letters offering consolation and hope to the families of the crew members who perished in the shuttle's fiery explosion on Jan. 28.

Each child in the school, which includes kindergarten through grade eight, had written a letter. One was selected from each grade to be read during the ceremony and will be mailed to NASA to be forwarded to the families, said Billie Mann, the assistant principal.

Most were addressed to the family of teacher Christa McAuliffe, the first civilian chosen for space flight.

"Dear Mr. McAuliffe and family," read a kindergarten student. "We are sorry that one of your family died in the space shuttle. We are praying that God will take care of her in heaven."

Cunningham, who has not yet gone up on a mission, was invited to attend the program after a parent heard him speak at a church. The astronaut told the students that he and Gregory Jarvis were teammates at Hughes Aircraft, where both worked when they were selected two years ago for NASA's astronaut program. "Greg Jarvis and I trained together at Houston," Cunningham said.

Jarvis, 41, was on board the Challenger to conduct experiments on the effects of weightlessness on fluid carried in tanks.

"I met all of the crew members and each of them was a special person," said Cunningham, who was clutching a Bible and wearing a NASA jump suit.

"But they were regular people, too. You might be surprised to know that they all made their beds every morning, just like we do."

In a closing prayer, Cunningham asked for guidance to the NASA scientists investigating the crash.

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