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Space Shuttle Columbia

David Brown: Gymnast turned astronaut

A one-time circus performer, David Brown was a Navy captain and surgeon.
A one-time circus performer, David Brown was a Navy captain and surgeon.

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Columbia mission specialist David Brown, 46, was a college gymnast and one-time circus performer before becoming a Navy pilot and doctor and then an astronaut. CNN's Bruce Burkhardt reports.
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(CNN) -- A college gymnast and one-time circus performer, David Brown said his experiences as an acrobat, tumbler, stilt walker and 7-foot unicycle rider helped him become a better astronaut.

"What I really learned from that, and transfers directly to what I'm doing on this crew, is kind of the teamwork and the safety and the staying focused, even at the end of a long day when you're tired and you're doing some things that may have some risk to them," he told The Associated Press.

Yorktown High School Principal Raymond Pasi said Brown telephoned him twice last year to express appreciation for his educational experience as a member of the Class of 1974. Pasi also said that Brown requested something he could take into space to represent the school in Arlington, Virginia. The school gave him a banner that he carried onboard the fatal flight.

Brown, 46, a U.S. Navy captain and surgeon, graduated from the College of William and Mary, where he competed as a gymnast. During the summer of 1976, he was recruited to be a circus performer.

He received his medical training at Eastern Virginia Medical School and the Medical University of South Carolina and enlisted in the Navy in 1984. His plan was to be a flight surgeon, but he was chosen for pilot training, logging more than 2,700 flight hours.

In 1996, he joined NASA, and the Columbia flight was his first shuttle mission. His parents, in disbelief after the crash, told CNN that their son loved space.

"He loved to fly, and he couldn't get enough," his father, Paul Brown, said.

Dorothy Brown read an e-mail she received from her son while he was in space: "The views of the Earth are really beautiful. If you've ever seen a space IMAX movie, that's really what it looks like. I wish I'd had more time just to sit and look out the window with a map, but our science program kept us very busy in the lab most of the time."

During his time in space, Brown worked the overnight shift in the lab. Though he relished his time in space, Brown was ready to come home.

"As much as we've enjoyed it up here, we're also starting to look forward to seeing all the people back on Earth that we miss and love so much," he told an interviewer Friday.

Despite their loss, the Browns say their son would have wanted the space program to continue.

"We are a nation of explorers," Dorothy Brown said. "That's why this great nation has come to what it is, and the space program will go on too for that reason."

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