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Eye on the Sky

Family, Students Monitor Mission of Shuttle Pilot, Who's a Long Way From Thousand Oaks

May 27, 2000|KATIE COOPER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

THOUSAND OAKS — Scott Horowitz is up there orbiting Earth at 17,000 mph, soon to finish a risky mission to fix the international space station.

But down here, in the comfort and safety of his east county home, his father is as cool as a cucumber.

"He was trained to do this job," Seymour Horowitz said matter-of-factly of his son, the astronaut, who is piloting the space shuttle Atlantis, which blasted off from Kennedy Space Center on May 19. "If he wasn't good enough, NASA wouldn't put him in the seat."

Maybe Scott, 43, has the right stuff because, in a way, the Newbury Park High School graduate went into the family business.

Like his father, Scott, the oldest of Seymour's three sons, joined the military and earned a doctorate in engineering. Also like his dad, he learned to fly a private plane at an early age.

"He had his pilot's license before he learned to drive," Seymour said during a recent interview at his home near Cal Lutheran University.

"Actually, all three of my sons have PhDs in engineering," said Seymour, 74, a retired Navy chief. He now works for defense contractor Litton Industries at Los Angeles Air Force Base, near Los Angeles International Airport.

"We had a bit of a can-do attitude in the household I grew up in," said the youngest Horowitz son, Evan, who works for Boeing Co.'s commercial aircraft division in Seattle.

Seymour raised his sons alone, after splitting up with his first wife in 1970. He married his second wife, Rose, in 1978.

Because all the males in the family had strong technical aptitudes, they believed they could master any challenge.

"We are engineers," said Evan, 38. "Give us a set of blueprints, and we'll make you anything."

Scott's childhood friend, Chuck Blat, said he met the future astronaut and Air Force colonel when they were seventh-graders at Redwood Middle School in Thousand Oaks. The Camarillo resident said he was often a little intimidated by the mental titans at the former Horowitz home on Fordham Avenue, in one of the city's original subdivisions.

"We'd be in the family room working on building a model plane, when Scott would start talking with his dad about airfoils, which I think is the degree of the curve on the top of the wing," said Blat, 42, who went on to become a branch manager for GTE. "I'd just try to act intelligent and nod at the right time."

Blat, who took his wife, Cheryl, to Florida to witness the recent shuttle launch, said his friend was always the smartest kid in class.

"Scott raised the curve on all the tests, and you hated him for it," Blat said joking.

But despite academic success, Scott did not spend his entire adolescence with his nose buried in books, Blat said.

He recalls a teen who loved to build model planes and set off model rockets. Scott also rebuilt sports cars and played the trombone in the high school marching band.

And back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Thousand Oaks had far fewer residents, the boys would ride their bikes into Westlake late at night, sometimes to launch model boats on the man-made lake.

"He was a lot of fun," Blat said.

The family was what people used to call "squares," Seymour said.

But the middle Horowitz son, Eric, strongly disputes any suggestion that his family members, especially Scott, were nerds.

"No way. He was popular in high school," said Eric, 39, who owns a computer consulting business in Baltimore. "He went out; he hung out."

No one in the Horowitz family seems to remember Scott talking about becoming an astronaut when he was a kid.

"If he said it, it didn't register," Eric said. "I mean, I talked about being a fireman."

Only after the space shuttle program was introduced in 1978 did Scott pursue the career, they said.

But apparently, Scott, who lives in Houston with wife Lisa and daughter Arielle, 4, confided just such a dream to his sixth-grade teacher at Acacia Elementary School in Thousand Oaks.

Scott has credited retired teacher Wendell Smith with being his inspiration, and he keeps a yearbook autograph from his mentor addressed "to one of the future astronauts" in his scrapbook.

For the current mission, Scott is second in command, sharing piloting duties with mission commander James Halsell Jr.

Scott has taken mementos from the school along on his three shuttle flights, said Acacia teacher Sharon Sickler.

On his first mission, aboard the shuttle Columbia in 1996, he took his own sixth-grade photo. A year later, Sickler's fifth-grade class gave Scott an American flag to carry on the shuttle Discovery.

This time, Sickler's class gave the shuttle pilot a class photo and a CD-ROM, featuring a video of the students dancing to tunes by the Beach Boys.

"He carried that in his hip pocket," Sickler said.

Her class is excited about the latest mission. Students brought in newspaper clippings last week, describing repairs to the space station, which had been slowly dropping in altitude and losing battery power.

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