SAN FRANCISCO — At school campuses throughout the state, students paid tribute to the crew of the space shuttle Columbia with spoken words, song and heartfelt silence.
Flags flew at half-staff at schools the length of the state, which is home to much of the research and development that goes into NASA's space program, and news of the shuttle's loss hit hard for many students.
"It was scary. It could have been here," said Stephanie Zamudio, a 16-year-old junior at Raoul Wallenberg Alternative High School in San Francisco.
Zamudio is a student in an 11th grade U.S. history class. Its teacher, Judith Mahnke, led a robust discussion on the history of the space program and the importance of the shuttle missions.
Students at Richard E. Byrd Middle School in Sun Valley wrote letters to the astronauts' families.
One student wrote, "I am sorry for what happened.... I know you feel really bad. They gave their lives for us, and that's why I'm proud."
Near Moffett Field and the NASA Ames Research Center, students at Mountain View High School had a campuswide moment of silence for the shuttle crew. Some student groups also discussed the crash.
"For a segment of the population, I think it has a larger impact on the kids that are very into the engineering and science departments, those kids who have a direct connection to NASA Ames," said Mountain View High Principal Pat Hyland.
A large poster was set up during lunch for students to sign and jot down thoughts and wishes for the families of the crew. The poster was to be delivered to the nearby NASA facility, Hyland said.
In San Francisco, at Galileo Academy of Science and Technology, about 100 students participated in a lunchtime moment of silence. Dominique Jones, 17, sang Mariah Carey's "Through the Rain" as classmates signed a large piece of paper with condolences for the families of the Columbia crew.
Bob Banos, a teacher in the pre-engineering program at Galileo, spoke to students about the importance of the space program and showed them an artist's concept drawing about colonizing space.
"It's these kinds of dreams that people have, that you have, that make pioneers," he said. "Our dreams have to survive and, despite what tragedies will occur, we have to proceed and make our dreams real."