In August 2005 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration signed off on a plan by U.S. Congressman Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, to rename NASA's National Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine in honor of the seven astronauts who perished during the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Now six months later local dignitaries, politicians and NASA officials will gather at 1 p.m. Thursday to celebrate the name change and witness the unveiling of the new sign for the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF).

“When you stop and think about it, CSBF is one of only two NASA facilities in Texas and one of the only NASA facilities in North Texas,” local event coordinator Dan Bochsler said. “This ceremony helps us remember our past history and re-ignites our future as one of NASA’s space cities.”

The 90-minute program begins with presentation of colors by the Fort Worth Naval Air Station National Guard with the University of Texas at Tyler’s Patriot Singers and brass quintet performing the National Anthem.

Local minister Rev. Scott Dornbush of Palestine’s First United Methodist Church will give the invocation and Balloon Program Office NASA Chief David Pierce will introduce speakers involved in the program.

Speakers include: balloon facility site manager Danny Ball, who will be presenting a site description and history; Hensarling; State Senator Todd Staples, R-Palestine; and State Representative Byron Cook.

Two NASA astronauts, Dr. Stanley Love and Dr. John Grunsfield will serve as keynote speakers. Bochsler said Grunsfield received his doctorate training at the facility.

“The facility has a special place in his heart,” Bochsler said.

The event concludes with the unveiling of the balloon facility’s new sign at approximately 2:30 p.m. Also at that time Mark Davis, the president of Aerostar, Inc. — a Sulfur Springs based company that makes most of world’s scientific balloons — will oversee the presentation of the capital flag.

Bochsler said that due to logistics the ceremony is not open to the public, but will be well-represented by media and area dignitaries.

“For the public the facility has planned an open house from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 28 and March 1,” he said. “School groups, families and anyone that wants to may come and take a tour.”

Hensarling proposed the name change to the House Committee on Science in April 2005 as a reminder of what the crew and space shuttle Columbia stood for: honor, bravery and the quest for knowledge for generations to come.

On Feb. 1, 2003, the Columbia and crew were lost over the western United States during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. The 28th and final flight of Columbia (STS-107) was a 16-day mission dedicated to research in physical, life and space sciences.

The balloon facility, located at 1510 E. FM Road 3224 in Anderson County, was established in 1961 by the National Science Foundation in Boulder, Colo. The facility was moved to Palestine in 1963 and was formally named the National Scientific Balloon Facility in January 1973. In 1982 sponsorship of the CSBF was transferred to NASA.

The CSBF provides complete balloon operation services and engineering support to the scientific community in the United States and several foreign countries. Operation services include inflating and launching the balloon, tracking and recovery of the payload, tele-command and data retrieval. Engineering support includes design of balloon systems, research in balloon materials and electronics design.

The facility has launched over 2,200 balloons for 124 domestic and international universities and technical institutions. Payloads up to 8,000 pounds are routinely flown on balloons up to 40 million cubic feet in volume to altitudes exceeding 20 miles. Flight time varies from several hours to several weeks. Seventy-four on site contract employees work at the facility and support NASA’s international balloon operations.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va. manages the scientific balloon program for the agency’s Science Mission directorate.

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