It soon became apparent that the space shuttle indeed had exploded, although official confirmation was not forthcoming immediately. Columbia and its crew of seven astronauts were only 16 minutes short of completing a mission that covered 16 days in space, in which they conducted numerous experiments in an effort to find solutions to some of the problems that plague Earth's residents.
Returning home has not previously proved to be a big problem time for our daring space explorers, although the hazardous conditions of re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere and guiding this huge projectile to a safe landing on a tiny target are almost beyond comprehension …
This maneuver had been accomplished successfully and without incident many times in the history of the space program, so the scheduled landing didn't get unusual attention. But tragedy made its unexpected appearance, and the nation is still in shock …
All Americans agree that the crew of the lost space shuttle were courageous heroes who deserve to be remembered by their families, friends and countrymen as pioneers, and the Senate offered that expression in a resolution Monday.
“Each Columbia crew member was a pioneer,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. “They would want us to recognize their sacrifices through our comments and through our review of their lives and through comforting of their families. I also know they would want us to determine the cause, to fix that cause and to move on in the same spirit of exploration.”
The grieving period may be especially long in East Texas where so many people not only remember the sound of tragedy in the sky, but will be reminded by a continuing search for and gathering of debris and human remains over a wide area.
Those attending the service at the Johnson Space Center will be joined by most Americans in spirit as they bid farewell to seven brave heroes. They volunteered to serve their fellow humans, fully aware of the inherent dangers of pioneer exploration.
World and human progress always has depended heavily on their kind.