Students Honor Columbia Crew, Plan Memorial Science Center

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Students and teachers at Lamping Elementary School are remembering the crew of the Columbia on the first anniversary of the shuttle's explosion and looking ahead to a $2 million science center honoring the shuttle's pilot.

The school on Friday dedicated a painting and granite bench, and planted seven rose bushes to honor pilot Willie McCool and the rest of the Columbia crew. They were killed a year ago Sunday when the space shuttle broke apart while returning from a 16-day science mission.

McCool's parents, Barry and Audrey, live in Las Vegas and are working with Lamping Elementary to heighten awareness about science and space exploration through a planned William McCool Science Center.

A foundation has already raised $100,000 for the center, which would be the first educational, hands-on space simulation center in the West. The project will cost an estimated $2 million.

The McCools, who were in Arlington, Va., to attend a memorial service for the fallen astronauts, did not attend Friday's dedication ceremony.

Lamping Principal Michael O'Dowd said he believes the science center will become a field-trip destination for schools throughout the Las Vegas area.

The center will include a greenhouse and botany laboratory, along with a flight simulator and the school's Christa McAuliffe Observatory, which honors the New Hampshire teacher who died in the 1986 explosion of the Challenger space shuttle.

During the ceremony, O'Dowd unveiled the acrylic, air-brush painting by Henderson artist Shawn Ealy. It features McCool, Columbia commander Rick Husband and the rest of the crew with the mission patch that McCool and Husband designed, backed by the U.S. flag.

Ealy, 33, spent three weeks working on the painting. He said his inspiration came from reading about each of the astronauts and one of the last messages that McCool had transmitted from space.

"He actually described the sunset from space," Ealy said. "I share the same passion for sunsets. That's how I connected."