Release Date: February 3, 2003
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- News of Saturday's space shuttle tragedy was especially upsetting to students who belong to the University at Buffalo's chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a nationwide association of students and professionals with career interests in space flight and exploration.
Members of UB's 35-student chapter traded phone calls and email over the weekend, expressing shock and sadness at the loss of the Columbia and its seven-member crew. The students will convene today and tomorrow to discuss how to formally express their condolences to the NASA "family," according to chapter president Nicholas Leone, a senior mechanical and aerospace engineering student.
"What happened doesn't change my mind that NASA is the finest aerospace organization in the world," says Leone, whose dream is to one day design space shuttles and other space vehicles for NASA. "It's obviously a huge tragedy, but unfortunately you have to realize that the aerospace industry is very risky -- it always has been and it always will be."
Leone doesn't expect the tragedy to deter any of his fellow students from pursuing careers in the aerospace industry or dampen their passion for space flight.
"I'm 100 percent certain that everyone of them would love to be an astronaut someday, including myself," he says.
Leone and chapter treasurer Lindsay Volaski have a personal connection to NASA, which makes the tragedy especially painful, they say. They were among a team of UB students who last summer participated in NASA's Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the students conducted zero-gravity experiments in NASA's KC-135 turbojet, nicknamed the "weightless wonder."
"The experience gave me a deep appreciation for what NASA does and the way they operate -- it's very much like a family," says Volaski, who plans to pursue a career in NASA's
research-and-development division. "We saw firsthand the amazing way everyone works together to accomplish their goals."
Adds Leone, "Everyone I met there, including the astronauts, was very hardworking and very dedicated. I'm sure they will work twice as hard to prevent something like this from happening again."