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Student's hopes are not dimmed by space tragedy



Published: Thu, February 6, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



A planetarium staffer said portions of upcoming shows will be devoted to the space shuttle.

By JoANNE VIVIANO

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Snowflake Kicovic felt stunned, sitting in her car, when she heard about the space shuttle Columbia disaster from a radio announcer on Saturday.

The Youngstown State University student said the shock changed to another feeling over the weekend as she thought more about the deaths of the seven astronauts on board.

"It's kind of scary, too," said Kicovic, a junior majoring in physics, mathematics and electrical engineering.

It's scary because Kicovic's hopes for her future could soar or crash with the NASA space program. The 18-year-old Hubbard woman hopes, someday, to be on a shuttle heading to Mars.

But Saturday's tragedy hasn't changed the dream she formed as a middle school pupil learning about the solar system.

"Everybody who works at NASA, they know there's that chance," Kicovic said. "But if you love it enough it doesn't stop you. I'd still do it in a second. I wouldn't even think about it."

Of a like mind

Her sentiments were echoed by faculty of YSU's physics and astronomy department.

"If they were offering free rides, Richard and I would be the first in line," said Dr. Warren Young, department chairman, as he sat in his office with Richard A. Pirko, show producer at YSU's Ward Beecher Planetarium.

Young, who wore a tie that features a space shuttle ready for launch, said he has watched several shuttle launches at Cape Canaveral, Fla., including two carrying his former student -- and former astronaut -- Dr. Ronald A. Parise, a Warren native and a YSU graduate.

In classes Monday, Young discussed the disaster with students.

"Sometimes people say, 'Should we continue manned space flights?'" Young said. "I say if we had abandoned air travel after the first plane crash, we would not be anywhere near where we are today."

Tile demonstration

Pirko uncovered a piece of scrap space shuttle tile -- made of silica, and lighter than plastic foam -- that he had received from the Orlando Science Center. Tiles, which can withstand temperatures of 3,000 degrees, adhere to the outside of the shuttle with construction glue -- the same used to seal bathtubs, Pirko said.

To show the tile's heat-absorbing qualities, Pirko took the piece, about a half-inch thick, to a physics lab and held a blow torch to it until it glowed red -- all while placing his finger on the other side.

Early investigations into the Columbia disaster are pointing to one possibility that the loss or damage of similar insulating tiles may have led to dangerous temperatures at the spacecraft's left wing and caused its collapse, Young explained.

Physics professor Douglas A. Fowler said students in his classes, usually quiet, were a bit more talkative Monday. When he asked them to think about the 1960s, protests and hippies came to mind. But the '60s gave more, Fowler said.

"The same free thinking that led to a Grateful Dead concert is also the free thinking that led to the Wilderness Act, the Civil Rights Act, and it led to the beginning of the exploration of space," he said. "There still is that dream."




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