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Funding campaign underway to save planetarium named for deceased alum

A group of citizens is raising funds in hopes of saving a Northern Virginia planetarium named after William & Mary alum Dave Brown ’78.

Brown, an Arlington native, was one of seven astronauts to perish on the Columbia space shuttle in 2003. The planetarium, which is 40 years old and sees 20,000 school visitors annually, was renamed in his honor on Feb. 1, 2008, the fifth anniversary of his death.

Brown graduated from the College with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. While at W&M, he also was a four-year performer on the gymnastics team.

“Dave Brown, I think, represented what a student-athlete at a university should be,” said Cliff Gauthier, head coach of the Tribe’s men’s gymnastics team. “He had a true passion for gymnastics and life, which he coupled with a love for learning and rising to every challenge.”

In February, the Arlington School Board announced that the planetarium would be open on a more limited basis during the 2010-11 school year, but budget concerns would force the Board to close the facility next July.

Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium formed, with a goal to raise $402,000 by June 2011, $200,000 of that by the end of December. Thus far, the group, which received 501c3 status just last week, has raised $16,400.

“The announcement by the School Board was a big surprise,” said Alice Monet, president of the organization. “In January, the planetarium was still included in the budget.”

Brown’s older brother, Doug, has been part of the fund-raising effort from the inception, Monet said.

After W&M, Brown received his doctorate from Eastern Virginia Medical School in 1982. He served an internship at the University of South Carolina then joined the Navy. He was accepted into the NASA program in 1996.

Captain Brown was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and the Defense Distinguished Service Medal. He was named Navy Operational Flight Surgeon of the Year in 1986 and received the Meritorious Service Medal and the Navy Achievement Medal.

Donations to the fund are fully tax deductible.