MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. and HOUSTON- Colorful banners with the inscription `our hearts are with them' hang at Kennedy Space Center Federal Credit Union's nine branches to honor the seven astronauts who lost their lives in the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy on Feb. 1. As investigators continue to piece together shuttle fragments to determine the cause of the tragedy, a memorial fund has been established at Johnson Space Center Federal Credit Union for members wishing to make donations to the families of the Columbia shuttle crew. For Kennedy Space Center FCU, the tragedy has a more poignant toll simply because of its 40-year relationship with the space center, said Levoyce Bethea, president/CEO. "It is too early to tell how big of a role we will play in this, but we are ready to do whatever needs to be done to help our members," Bethea said. "Our hearts are with the crew, families and everyone affected by this tragedy." Chartered in 1963, the credit union was housed at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and has since converted to a community charter serving Volusia and Brevard counties. Kennedy has 51,940 members and has $297 million in assets. Because of the community charter, it may be difficult to track the number of Kennedy Space Center employees that are members, said Wendy Kalowski, vice president of marketing, but the number may be "significant." At Johnson Space Center Federal Credit Union, a memorial fund to assist the families of the fallen astronauts has seen a stream of donations since it was established two days after the shuttle tragedy, said Michael Brown, president/CEO. Brown said they have been in touch with NASA to offer any needed assistance. "This is a sad time, but I think the memorial service with President Bush helped to reassure us all that we can move forward with our daily routine," Brown expressed. A number of memorial funds have been set up across the city here, Brown said, but because of NASA's ongoing investigation, it's premature to determine the logistics of collected donations and how they will be dispersed. JSC Federal Credit Union was chartered in 1961 as MSC Federal Credit Union and expanded onto Galveston Island after absorbing Galveston Industries FCU in 2000. With 60,000 members and $509 million in assets, the space center and its contractors continues to be the credit union's larger select employee groups. President George W. Bush, first lady Laura Bush and space pioneers John Glenn and Neil Armstrong, paid tribute to the Columbia astronauts on Feb. 4 in a memorial service attended by thousands of space agency employees, family members and friends. "Their mission was almost complete, and we lost them so close to home," President George W. Bush said in his tribute to the space shuttle crew. But amid the pain of tragedy, Bush said, "seven lives of great purpose and achievement" must be remembered and honored. In Florida, many of the 14,000 space workers at Kennedy Space Center gathered in training auditoriums, conference rooms and individual offices to watch the memorial service on NASA television. The center held a separate memorial service on Feb. 7. -

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