National Catholic Register: Way out – Catholic students at N.J. school have tie to space program
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. (National Catholic Register) – Even before Space Shuttle Discovery launched on the Fourth of July, many geared up in different ways for the event to take place at Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Some traveled great distances to be at the launch site so they could watch or take pictures.
Still others prayed.
In New Jersey, there were several people who had a special connection.
James Hannon, a parishioner of St. Thomas Church in Old Bridge, was in charge of operations for an emergency landing of Discovery at the Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township.
The airport is the alternate landing site for any shuttle launch in case something goes wrong in the first 10 minutes of the flight.
Hannon and firefighters from New Jersey – all specially trained by NASA – put plans into place months before the launch in case of an emergency landing.
“But a thought and a prayer to go with the launch on this day didn’t hurt,” said Hannon.
During morning’s Mass at area churches, priests reminded the faithful to keep in their prayers the crew of seven on the shuttle as it was set to launch July 4.
And as it did launch – at 2:38 p.m. – a special group of kids from St. Lawrence Regional School in Lindenwold, N.J., had their eyes glued to the television screen.
“As always, we kept in mind the families of the astronauts and prayed for them,” said student Taylor Principato, of Blackwood. She is one of dozens of students who are part of the NASA program at St. Lawrence, in the Diocese of Camden.
Principato is an eighth grader at the school where they take NASA – and each space shuttle mission – very seriously. St. Lawrence is one of a handful across the nation officially recognized by NASA, school officials said.
In fact, the school is so proud of its connection to the space program that it flies a banner given to them by NASA. It reads: “NASA honors St. Lawrence School for academic excellence.”
Since 2000, students at the school have tested hybrid crops for use in the International Space Station. In recent years, students have developed their own synthetic medium to grow the first successful “space wheat” in a greenhouse behind the school.
St. Lawrence students had waited an entire year to see this launch. For them, it holds the possibility of new experiments coming back to them from space.
School principal Lynn Domenico spoke about the importance of the NASA program for students.
“We’ve had people from NASA visit the school and we find that everyone at NASA is a good role model,” Domenico said.
However, not everyone agrees that youngsters following the lives of the astronauts and the shuttle launch with such intensity is a good idea. With two major shuttle disasters in the background, including the Feb. 1, 2003, disintegration over Texas as Columbia re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, every launch is fraught with concern.
Principato remembers when the space shuttle exploded, killing all seven crew members. She said students cried openly and prayed for their families.
“Yes, there was a time we watched the space shuttle, and we had a tragedy. The students were shaken,” Domenico recalled.
But she said it made it even more important for NASA to keep the program in the school – so students could have a first-hand chance to ask about what might have gone wrong.
“Without a doubt, it can be upsetting,” said Dr. David Burgess, a specialist treating children’s psychological and psychiatric disorders at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Burgess, who was stationed with the Army in Colorado, knows firsthand how post traumatic stress disorder can affect not only members of the military and their family but even children who are subjected to what they watch on television.
“Don’t get me wrong, it is great to learn about the space shuttle,” he said. “But you have to put limits.”
Father John Vignone of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Egg Harbor Township said that during the school year such a program could make students tense. He remembered talking to parishioners who felt “helpless” after the shuttle disaster.
But Father Vignone, a former school teacher in the Diocese of Camden, said it was good NASA had a program for students to get involved with what they were viewing on television.
Domenico also touted the NASA program as helping students to achieve “character development and understanding God’s universe.”
She said the program helps students to become very patriotic and instill their belief in God and country. It is a chance for teachers to incorporate religion into talking about the space program. She said “students pray” as they watch each shuttle flight – as if praying for the astronauts was a class assignment.
The NASA program at St. Lawrence isn’t just about watching the shuttle on television or watching plants from outer space grow in their greenhouse. Back in June 2005, Taylor and her ...
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