Astronauts pay tribute

Monday, December 10, 2001

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the linked space shuttle Endeavour and international space station paid tribute Sunday to those who died Sept. 11 and those who are fighting to stop terrorism.

"All of us were affected by that day -- greatly," said outgoing space station commander Frank Culbertson, a retired Navy captain who was in orbit when the attacks occurred.

"To all of those who lost loved ones, to all of those who worked so hard to help people survive, and to the people who are trying so hard to stop this threat, we wish you the best," he said.

WTC flag

Endeavour is carrying thousands of U.S. flags in honor of all those killed in the terrorist attacks.

Six thousand of the small flags will be distributed after Endeavour's flight to victim's relatives and some of the survivors of the tragedy. The larger flags will be returned to Pennsylvania, the Pentagon and New York, where one of them was flying at the World Trade Center when the hijacked airliners slammed into the towers.

That flag is ripped and still smells of smoke. Shuttle commander Dominic Gorie said before the mission that he was reluctant to unpack it in space for fear it would trigger smoke alarms.

"When we first saw it, we were amazed that this flag survived," Gorie said Sunday evening. "But it's a tremendous symbol of our country. Just like our country, it's a little bit bruised and battered and torn. With a little repair, it's going to fly high and as beautiful as it ever did, and that's just what our country is doing."

Also flying on Endeavour: a New York fire department banner and 23 New York police badges and 91 police patches.

The space station's new skipper, Russian Yuri Onufrienko, noted that the international cooperation exhibited in orbit is "really a good example of how we need to work together" on Earth.

The 10 space travelers took time out from their supply-unloading to gather in the orbiting laboratory for the brief, solemn ceremony. The flags and other Sept. 11 mementos remained on the shuttle, tucked away.

Gorie and co-pilot Mark Kelly, both Navy officers, steered the shuttle-station complex into a slightly higher orbit Sunday.

They also helped remove cargo from an Italian-built moving van that was launched aboard Endeavour and temporarily attached to the space station.

The 3 tons of clothes, food, science experiments and spare parts will be used by the space station's new crew, Onufrienko and American astronauts Daniel Bursch and Carl Walz, who remain in orbit until May.

They replaced Culbertson and Russian cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin, whose four-month mission will end with an Endeavour touchdown next week. The moving work will be interrupted today by a spacewalk by two of Endeavour's crew to fix a problem with the motors that rotate the space station's giant solar wings.

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