NASA holds ceremony to commemorate anniversary of Space Shuttle Columbia disaster

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Columbia's final ascent

NASA has held a memorial ceremony to mark the fifth anniversary of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. All seven astronauts were killed when their spacecraft broke up on re-entry over Texas on February 1, 2003, 16 minutes prior to scheduled landing time at Florida. Columbia had been damaged by a chunk of loose foam during takeoff 16 days earlier.

NASA officials, astronauts, schoolchildren and family members attended the ceremony, which was held just miles from Columbia's intended landing site. Approximately 200 people attended the event, held at the Kennedy Space Center's Space Mirror Memorial to all 24 astronauts killed in space disasters. Each was presented with a rose, which was placed in front of a granite memorial bearing the names of the 24.

Evelyn Husband-Thompson, widow of commander Rick, who has remarried just three weeks ago, said "This morning, I couldn't stop thinking about Rick and Willie and Kalpana and Dave and Mike and Laurel and Ilan. All of our families went through so much that day. We so miss them, and we will never forget them."

44 teenagers from Israel were amongst those present, there in respect to astronaut Ilan Ramon. Some came from the same school Ramon had attended. 15-year-old Roman Rashchupkin said "He's Israeli, so it's important. He learned in our school."

G. Madhavan Nair represented India at the memorial, remembering Indian astronaut Kalpana Chawla. Nair is chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation.

Former shuttle commander Bill Readdy commented that, despite a large number of memorials, including one on Mars, "... much more importantly than any physical monument, they're memorialized right here in our hearts," Going on to name them individually, then saying "We'll always miss your easy laughter and your smiling faces. God willing, five years from now, they'll have even more to be proud of us about as we take even longer strides ... back to the moon and onward toward Mars. May God bless the crew of Columbia."

NASA boss Michael Griffin was amongst several people who commented on the dangerous nature of spaceflight. He proceeded to read a letter from United States President George W. Bush praising the astronauts, which was then presented to Husband-Thompson. "Space exploration is a dream deeply rooted in humanity, and the seven brave astronauts of Columbia sacrificed their lives so the rest of mankind could realize that dream," said Bush's letter. "They assumed great risk so they could understand what lies beyond the heavens. We are grateful for their service and they will be always be cherished."

Griffin also noted the importance of learning from mistakes, adding "Americans don't quit and we won't quit. We'll never quit," and that "not quitting has high costs."

It wasn't the only such anniversary around this time. The 41st anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire was on Sunday, and Monday saw the 22nd anniversary of the Challenger disaster.