Greg Brooks displays some of his many pieces of space shuttle memorabilia at his evans home.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
On Monday, Greg Brooks was wearing his space shuttle Columbia T-shirt, an outward homage to the seven astronauts who died when the space shuttle exploded Saturday over Texas.
Brooks, who has watched 10 space shuttle launches and as has seen Columbia up close on the launch pad, said the disaster will forever be etched in his mind, an event as memorable as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the day the space shuttle Challenger blew up.
"I was at the gym riding the bicycle when I saw on TV they couldn't get in contact with the shuttle," said Brooks, 44, a paramedic/firefighter at the Savannah River Site. "Five minutes later I saw a video of the shuttle breaking up and knew immediately what had happened. The shuttle (Challenger) disaster, the World Trade Center and now this. You know where you were when you first heard about these three events. That will always stay with you."
Brooks became interested in space travel in the mid-1990s when he first began trekking to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. to view shuttle launches. But his passion was fueled when he drove a busload of local supporters to Florida in 1997 to watch the launch of Augusta native Susan Still-Kilrain's space shuttle mission, one of two successful missions she's completed.
Since then, he has been organizing his own bus tours.
"On one trip we went to see the Columbia launch and they let us go past the security fence and we were 100 feet away while it was on the pad," Brooks said. "That was a real treat. We were so close, you could throw a rock at it and hit it. That was just awesome to see it on the launch pad."
Brooks has passed along his love of space to his children, who also have been to several shuttle launches and have attended space camp in Huntsville, Ala. Together they've collected T-shirts, patches, launch briefings, shuttle models and other souvenirs of their adventures, including a T-shirt autographed by Susan Still-Kilrain.
"It's just a new frontier," Brooks said of his infatuation with space. "Being able to be a little part of seeing NASA accomplish the missions that they are doing. That in turn helps America and human beings on Earth. It's part of being on the cutting edge of something new."
Though he is torn by the tragedy of the Columbia, Brooks said he recognizes that it is the price paid for exploration into a new frontier.
"Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain and lost ships," said Brooks, who lives in Evans with his wife, Teresa, and children Megan, Zachary, and Taylor. "When you explore, it's one of the risks you take. We can't stop space exploration just because of this tragedy."
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