Shuttle astronaut David Brown once took a car engine apart and put it back together because he just wanted to see how it worked. When a Hartford, Conn., astronomy teacher asked for a signed photograph for class, Brown declined to send it, choosing instead to become a mentor to many of those students. Brown had a thirst for life and its offerings, friends say, and was many other things, too: a Navy captain and pilot, a flight surgeon, a gymnast, a circus performer, a bike rider and a budding filmmaker.
On March 12, Brown became the 19th astronaut laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, one of the seven killed in the Feb. 1 breakup of space shuttle Columbia.
The space flight was Brown’s first.
Retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Goldfinger recalled Brown’s invitation to a NASA family barbecue days before the shuttle’s Jan. 16 launch. But Goldfinger didn’t seem to know why he was asked, telling some 300 mourners at a nearby military chapel that he was no closer to Brown than they were.
With Brown, however, “It was never about Dave. It was always about what he could do for somebody else,” said Goldfinger, who told the story about the Connecticut schoolteacher.
“He was the most humble overachiever we’ve all ever known,” Goldfinger said.
Brown, 46, was a Navy captain, pilot and flight surgeon. He joined the Navy after a medical internship, then went on to fly the A-6E Intruder and F-18. He became an astronaut in 1996.
'Sheer joy of life'
Brown was a gymnast in high school and college, and once spent a summer working for a traveling circus, where he did acrobatic stunts, walked on stilts and rode a 7-foot unicycle.
“A very human being,” said medical school classmate Gordon Iiams, a retired Navy captain. “He was so bubbly with enthusiasm,” and had a “sheer joy of life and all its trimmings.”
Sunny, blue skies turned gray Wednesday after the half-hour memorial service. Mourners streamed from the chapel and lined up for the half-mile walk to the burial site.
Brown will rest alongside Columbia crew mates Laurel Clark, whose funeral was here Monday, and Michael P. Anderson, buried last Friday. Brown is the last of the Columbia seven to be buried.
The three will rest just steps away from where the Challenger astronauts are remembered with a granite memorial. The shuttle Challenger exploded just after blasting off in January 1986.
The burial, with full military honors, was a homecoming of sorts for Brown, who grew up in Arlington County and attended high school here.
The graveside service began with a “missing man” formation flyover, in which one of four F-18 jets that roared overhead peeled away, soaring into the sky and out of sight.
An honor guard and military band accompanied the silver coffin, draped with an American flag, as it was drawn across the cemetery grounds on a caisson pulled by a matched set of six horses. A squad fired three rifle volleys and a lone bugler played “Taps.”
The flag was folded and handed to Brown’s father, Paul, who was pushed forward in his wheelchair to lay a red rose on his son’s coffin. He removed his eyeglasses and wiped away tears.
Other immediate family, including his mother Dorothy, brother Doug, niece Casey, nephew Paul and former sister-in-law Diane, also laid single roses atop the coffin.