Coming Down

A "routine" shuttle descent winds up stunning Space City

A handful of reporters had been ready to cover the Columbia landing as the typically brief footnote to the harsher news of pending war and a sluggish economy. Now TV reporters stood outside JSC in front of old rockets doing live "we're here at NASA to keep you informed and updated" shots.

They waited to watch a live video of the 10 a.m. NASA press conference at Kennedy Space Center, which was rescheduled and postponed until about 1 p.m. In the interim, a dozen NASA spokespeople did multilingual live, on-air interviews reciting standard news releases. Reporters busied themselves with previously ignored press kits listing astronauts' hobbies and other Playboy-centerfold-style biographical facts.

Outside the building, mourners were already arriving with flowers to begin a makeshift memorial.

Astronaut-hopeful Grant and his father arrived at Space Center Houston around 1:30 p.m. The teenager talked with more machismo than ever about going into space. "It's a risk," he said. "But it's worth it. I'd be more angry if I hadn't tried and had just sat around."

"He has to do what he wants to do," his dad said. "I'm quite prepared for it."

Mike headed straight to the gift shop to spend his birthday money.

He wanted a NASA T-shirt. The one that says, "Failure is not an option."

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