Six days ago, many of these people stood on the
runway, anxiously awaiting the return of Columbia
(STS-107). But Columbia never came home. Friday, they
stood under threatening skies, remembering the seven astronauts
killed when the space plane broke up re-entering the Earth's
"She carried as wonderful a group of human beings as you could
ever hope to assemble," NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said
Friday. "We miss them more than words can describe.
O'Keefe, standing by a large logo for the mission, STS-107,
noted the closeness and the diversity of Columbia's crew,
which included an Israeli, an African-American and an American
woman who was born in India.
"The astronauts represented such a wonderful tapestry of races,
religions, nationalities," he said.
The service was open to the 15,000 workers at the space center,
and more than 7,000 attended, officials said. Sen. Bill Nelson, a
former astronaut, and Gov. Jeb Bush, joined them.
"Let us share the hope that when we look to the stars, we will
see in them a reminder of the heroes who dared to travel among
them," Bush told the crowd.
Columbia's First Pilot Bids A Tearful Fairwell
Robert L. Crippen, the pilot on Columbia's debut trip in 1981,
described NASA's oldest shuttle as a lost friend for many of the
Kennedy Space Center workers who had spent years maintaining and
"Columbia was hardly a thing of beauty except for those
of us who loved and cared for her," Crippen said. "She was often
badmouthed for being a little heavy in the rear end, but many of us
can relate to that. ... She was our leader."
Many said she was old and past her prime. Still, she had only
lived barely a quarter of her design life," Crippen said, at times,
fighting tears so obviously near the surface (below, right).
Columbia, along with the crew, "had her life snuffed
out in her prime," he said. "I'm sure the Columbia...
struggled to bring her crew home. She was a fine ship."
We will find the cause, correct the problems and return to safe
flight," he said.
Rabbi Zvi Konikov recounted how Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon had
asked him how he should observe the Jewish Sabbath in space when
there is a sunset every 1 hours, and by that measure, a Sabbath
every 10 hours.
"Jerusalem, we have a problem!'' said Konikov in a
play on the famous words issued by astronaut Jim Lovell during the
troubled Apollo 13 mission in 1970.
Ramon decided to observe the Sabbath according to Earth's
Konikov of the Chabad Jewish Community Center of the Space Coast
urged the workers to find strength in the coming days.
"Turn pain into action and tragedy into growth," Konikov said.
"Every challenge, every obstacle, every setback, no matter how
painful and difficult, must be channeled into greater activity
making the world a more godly and kinder place.
"Columbia is gone, yet the astronauts' souls are with
God. Columbia is gone, yet the astronauts' legacy lives
on. They wished to serve and they did; now it is our turn to