The Columbia tragedy: as the nation mourns seven astronauts, President Bush vows that "the cause in which they died will continue.". (News Extra).
"This is, indeed, a tragic day for the NASA family, for the families of the astronauts who flew on STS- 107, and, likewise, tragic for the nation," said Sean O'Keefe, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) official.
Bob Molter from Palestine, Texas, which is about 100 miles south of Dallas, described the explosion to National Public Radio.
"There was a big boom that shook the house for more than a minute, and I went outside because I thought there had been a train accident on the nearby line," Molter recalled. "But there was nothing, and then I looked up and saw the trails of smoke zigzagging, going across the sky"
Debris from the crash, some of it toxic, fell across central Texas and western Louisiana.
The shuttle crew included two women, one of whom was born in India, an African-American, and an Israeli (see sidebar, p. 11).
Before the flight, lain Clark, 8, told kids across the U.S. that his mom, Laurel, trained hard to be an astronaut.
"I'm proud of her," lain said. "She went up to the stars, but I think she is the star."
Payload specialist Ilan Ramon was the first Israeli ever to fly in space. His death devastated Israel, a nation already reeling from months of violence and economic recession.
"The state of Israel and its citizens stand at this difficult hour alongside the families of the astronauts, the family of Ilan Ramon, and the American people and government," said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
NASA officials did not immediately know the cause of the explosion, but they ruled out terrorism. A piece of insulation that broke off during the January 16 launch and damaged the left wing may have played a part in the disaster.
During the flight, the Columbia astronauts conducted 90 scientific experiments on space communications, the global climate, and the effects of weightlessness on the human body. The astronauts also monitored various creatures in their 180-mile-high laboratory, including ants, carpenter bees, silkworms, and fish embryos. The animals were a part of student experiments.
The Future of Space Exploration
The Columbia mission was the 113th flight in the shuttle program's 22 years. The Columbia was NASA's first shuttle. Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour are the others.
The next flight, by Atlantis, will not rake place until a panel of experts determines exactly what went wrong on the Columbia.
NASA had planned to send the Columbia to the International Space Station (ISS) in November, a trip that was to include teacher Barbara Morgan (see News, Feb. 2, 2003).
Morgan, who was training at Florida's Kennedy Space Center at the time of the explosion, was the first teacher scheduled for space travel since the 1986 Challenger disaster, which killed teacher Christa McAuliffe.
"It was just like after the Challenger," Morgan's husband said after the crash. "She's just focusing on what she can do to help people. She had seven friends on Columbia."
In an address to the nation, President George W. Bush said that "these astronauts knew the dangers, and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life."
President Bush promised that NASA'S work would continue. "Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand," the President said. "Our journey into space will go on."
RELATED ARTICLE: The Crew of the Columbia
Rick D. Husband, 45, commander. Married, one son and one daughter. U.S. Air Force colonel, on his second trip into space. Piloted a shuttle flight in 1999 that performed the first docking with the International Space Station.
William C. McCool, 40, pilot. A Navy commander who was a former test pilot. Married, three sons. This was his first trip into space.
Michael P. Anderson, 42, payload commander. Married, two daughters. U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and physicist. This was Anderson's second trip into space.
David M. Brown, 46, mission specialist. Navy captain, aviator, and flight surgeon. Brown performed scientific experiments on the mission. This was his first space flight.
Kalpana Chawla, 41, mission specialist. Married. Born in India and later moved to the U.S. An aerospace engineer, Chawla was the main robotic-arm operator on her first space flight, also on the Columbia, in 1997.
Laurel B. Clark, 41, mission specialist. U.S. Navy commander and medical doctor who conducted biological experiments on the shuttle. Married, one son. This mission was her first space flight.
IIan Ramon, 47, payload specialist. Ramon was a colonel in the Israeli Air Force. Married, three sons and one daughter. He was a veteran of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.