Families Gather To Honor Lost Astronauts
Family members, friends and NASA officials gathered at Kennedy
Space Center on Friday to commemorate the seven Columbia astronauts
on the fifth anniversary of their deaths. On February 1, 2003 --
after a 16-day mission -- the shuttle Columbia broke up high over
Texas while descending to land at Kennedy.
During Friday's gathering, Evelyn Husband-Thompson led an
emotional tribute to her husband, Columbia commander Rick Husband
and the astronauts, at the base of the Space Mirror Memorial,
reports the Associated Press.
"This morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about Rick and
Willie and Kalpana and Dave and Mike and Laurel and Ilan," said
Husband-Thompson, naming each of the Columbia crew. "All of our
families went through so much that day. We so miss them, and we
will never forget them."
Past and present NASA
spaceflight officials joined Husband-Thompson, who remarried a few
weeks ago, her two children and over 200 others at the towering
granite memorial bearing the names of the 24 astronauts who have
given their lives in the line of duty.
Each guest received a long-stemmed rose, and each placed their
flower on the grating in front of the stone memorial.
Ilan Ramon was Israel’s first astronaut... and on Friday,
44 ninth-graders from Israel stood on the sidelines and paid quiet
respect. Some of the teenagers were from the same school Ramon
attended years earlier.
"He’s Israeli, so it’s important," said 15-year old
Roman Rashchupkin. "He learned in our school."
India, the homeland of astronaut Kalpana Chawla, was also
represented at the hour-long ceremony. India’s space research
organization chairman, G. Madhavan Nair, noted how Columbia’s
loss was painful not just for the astronauts’ families, but
for the whole world.
President and Mrs. Bush were among those who offered their
respects to the families of Husband’s crew.NASA Administrator
Michael Griffin read from the president’s letter:
"Space exploration is a dream deeply rooted in human history.
The seven brave astronauts of Columbia sacrificed their lives so
the rest of mankind could realize this dream. Rick D. Husband,
William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, David M. Brown, Kalpana
Chawla, Laurel Blair Salton Clark and Ilan Ramon all nobly faced
the dangers of space travel with courage and idealism. They assumed
great risk so we could understand what lies beyond the
Griffin also offered his praise to the astronauts, their
families and NASA colleagues, stressing how spaceflight is
risky and always will be. As the next shuttle crew readies for a
launch on Thursday, Griffin emphasized how important it is to learn
from past mistakes.
Columbia’s loss was triggered by undetected damage to the
heat shield of the left wing. A chunk of insulating foam broke off
the shuttle’s fuel tank and collided with the shield.
The ceremony Friday marked the last in a week of solemn
recollections for the space agency. On January 27, NASA marked the
41st anniversary of the Apollo 1 spacecraft fire; Monday was the
22nd anniversary of the Challenger launch explosion.
"Americans don’t quit and we won’t quit. We’ll
never quit." Griffin said, noting grimly that "quitting has high