June 14, 2002
— NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe led a delegation of astronauts Friday in a special presentation of colors at the Rose Center at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
A U.S. flag recovered from the site of the World Trade Center in the days following the September 11 attacks returned home after traveling nearly five million miles in space onboard the shuttle Endeavour during STS-108 in December.
The flag, damaged but intact, was pulled from the debris by the New York City Police Department. To honor the victims, families and those who helped in the recovery efforts on and after September 11, NASA flew th Stars and Stripes as part of its Flags for Heroes and Families
"The tradition of carrying American flags into space dates back to the very beginning of this historic agency. From the surface of the Moon to the unchartered regions of our galaxy, NASA has flown the American flag as a patriotic symbol of truth, honor and justice. It is appropriate that we present this flag back to the city of New York on Flag Day," said O'Keefe.
The large flag, along with other commemorative badges, patches and other items were taken into space with nearly 6,000 smaller flags that will be given to victims' families from New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Along with O'Keefe, NASA astronauts Frank Culbertson, Dominic Gorie, Linda Godwin and Michael Massimino helped present the flown items to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Governor George Pataki, and representatives from the New York Police and Fire departments and the New York/New Jersey port authority.
"This precious flag symbolizes the sacrifice and courage of the thousands of News Yorkers and Americans who perished that fateful day. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I am proud to welcome the flag back to the New York City to honor the innocent men and women who were working in the towers on September 11, and the countless heroes whose spirit and strength has helped carry us through this horrific ordeal," said Governor Pataki.
Culbertson served as the third expedition commander on the International Space Station and was the only American in orbit at the time of the terrorist attacks. He sent down the first photos of smoke rising from the World Trade Center in New York shortly before the buildings collapsed.
Dom Gorie was commander of STS-108 and Godwin was a mission specialist onboard space shuttle Endeavour on the mission. Massimino has close ties to the New York Fire Department and was onboard space shuttle Columbia during STS-109's Hubble visit in March.
"From space, the astronauts get a unique view of our home planet and the destruction was clearly visible from orbit. The events of September 11 deeply affected them, as they did the entire nation. We hope this campaign is seen as a fitting tribute from America's space program as the courageous people of New York move forward," said Administrator O'Keefe.