STS-107 News

Memorial Service for the STS-107 Crew
02.08.03
 
First Baptist Church
Lufkin, Texas


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REVEREND BUSH: Let us pray. Almighty God, to us as a nation you have truly been our help in ages past. You are sustaining us now in the present and because of your more than thirty thousand Biblical promises, we know you will continue to providentially be there for us in the future and as we honor and serve you. We offer you our deepest gratitude for sympathizing and empathizing with us during our national grief by providing your divine mercy and grace to help us in our hurting time of need as we contritely seek your face.

Father, we find ourselves once again experiencing the valley of the shadow of death, a tragedy of nightmarish proportion that has not only affected America, but also the whole globe, with sobering quietness, through the loss of our seven heroic astronauts, through the painful grieving of their broken families, through a superb NASA team that has suffered a severe setback in space exploration.

Undergird with extraordinary wisdom, our President, George W. Bush, during these trying days, his Cabinet, our United States Congress, our own Governor Perry and his Cabinet, our State and U.S. Senators and Congressmen and women, and our law enforcement agencies from coast to coast, and lavish emboldened strength and courage upon our brave servicemen and women of the military who may ultimately be called upon to lay down their lives and shed precious blood to preserve our democratic freedom in the days to come.

Bless extra special grace upon the astronauts' grieving families who will continue to struggle with the loss of their loved ones long after the rest of us have returned to the routine of our lives. May we never forget the selfless sacrifice of this courageous pioneering space crew. We honor their lives cut abruptly short and reverence their precious memories.

Provide, we pray, the answers and missing pieces to the puzzle for NASA, that they might clearly find and determine and remedy beyond doubt the Columbia tragedy so that our exciting and necessary space program may successfully continue without loss of additional life for the betterment of mankind everywhere across the planet, and favor us with your comforting presence during this memorial service that our torn emotions and troubled spirits might be soothed with your healing balm. You alone, God, are great and sovereign. Your goodness has not been diminished one iota because of our tragedy, and thus, we turn to you, Father, in repentance, hope and assurance that has more than adequately been provided for us through the saving faith we enjoy in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

You may be seated.

SEAN O'KEEFE: Thank you, Reverend Bush, for that inspiring prayer.

We at NASA are so grateful to the Lufkin community for organizing this heartfelt tribute to seven brave heroes, the intrepid crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia. Thank you for taking our NASA family and our colleagues from so many different agencies and departments across the entire Federal Government into your homes and embracing them in this community.

Today, you have welcomed us into the Lord's house. This week you have invited us into your homes and your hearts, and for that you have our enormous gratitude. We're forever indebted for these many kindnesses and generosity.

This morning, we gather together as newfound friends to celebrate the lives of our Columbia astronauts. During the past week, people who have participated in the memorials to our fallen astronauts, in this country and throughout the world, have learned a great deal about these remarkable explorers. They represent the best of the human spirit. We've learned about their passionate commitment to science and discovery, the noble work that motivated the Columbia mission. We've learned from them a simple but profound lesson about the value of friendship and team work.

The astronauts joyfully represented a wonderful tapestry of different races, religions, and nationalities. Through their genuine love for each other, they demonstrated the potential for all of us to work together in harmony. And fittingly through their own sincere convictions, they also expressed the power of faith. Bob Cabana, who is with us here today, observed and mentioned at the National Cathedral Memorial just Thursday that he saw this power at work on the morning of Columbia's launch when he joined the astronauts in the suit room where they suit up before going out to the orbiter, and just as the crew was starting to leave, before they arrived at the launch pad, Bob witnessed Commander Rick Husband get them to embrace as one and join in prayer. And now, in their memory we do the same.

We will never forget the wonderful legacy of the Columbia astronauts. And this is a particularly poignant moment. It is at this time, seven days ago, we joined family members and friends gathered in Florida waiting to welcome our beloved astronauts home. It started out as a very happy morning and the enthusiasm for the celebration of a very successful return was upon all of us. And then, it became apparent that it was to end in tragedy.

Just as words cannot fully express the admiration that our entire nation and indeed the people of the world feel right now for the Columbia astronauts, we at NASA are struggling to find the proper words to thank the people of Lufkin and the surrounding communities for your vital help in this important recovery effort. With your support we have made great progress in the Columbia debris recovery effort, and we're confident the debris will provide us valuable clues to help us figure out what caused the loss of Columbia and its crew. And once we understand the cause of the accident, we will correct what problems we find and make sure this never happens again so that we can continue the important work that Columbia's crew inspired.

The exploration of space will continue. On Tuesday in Houston, President Bush said, "This course of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose, it is a desire written in the human heart where that part of creation seeks to understand all creation." He also observed Americans are resolute people who have risen to every test of our time. Adversity has revealed the character of our country to the world and to ourselves. That character has been on display here in Lufkin during this week.

The good people of Lufkin could not have possibly planned for fifteen hundred folks to suddenly descend from around twenty different federal agencies and state and local organizations in order to carry out the vital work that has been centered here in your community. You have greeted us without hesitation and with tremendous hospitality. Many families, businesses, and organizations generously donated time, food, and equipment. This incredible outpouring of assistance is being supplemented by the nonstop support we're getting from our friends from the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross.

And early on in the recovery effort, one of our officials on the ground was asked if there were any immediate needs. The response was, "Well, we could use some water." Well, soon he got water, a tractor-trailer full of bottled water donated by the local stores.

Local Boy Scout troops have also lived up to the scouting motto and have helped to feed our people, along with Pat Fulford who was so focused on preparing hot meals for all of our people engaged in this that she was stunned to learn that she and her husband Norm's house had been consumed by fire.

These are just illustrations of the many kindnesses and extraordinary sacrifices that we will never forget and we are indebted to you for.

You know, I suspect that Reverends Bush, Williams, and Kennedy have preached to many of you of the parable of the Good Samaritan, and it's clear the people of Lufkin have taken this lesson to heart. This past week, the eyes of the world were on the people of Lufkin and surrounding communities, and you have made the nation proud.

I want to also thank Governor Rick Perry and all the Texas state officials who have done so much to support all that we're engaged in, everything that we could have asked for from the State of Texas and the Governor has immediately been responded to. We've also received tremendous support from the U.S. Forest Service, the National Guard, local law enforcement officials, and from off-duty volunteer officers. General Bennie Landreneau is here representing Governor Foster from the State of Louisiana who have been engaged in the same activity and all the work going on between Texas and Louisiana as we've searched this entire area to come to conclusion on exactly what happened. We appreciate your tireless work to help coordinate this massive effort.

It is our fervent wish that we could have made all of your acquaintances under different circumstances, but we're thankful to you in this time of need. You were here for us.

So much has changed in a week. Indeed, for many of us in the NASA family, our lives have changed completely. First among them are the courageous families of the seven heroic crew members, and they have been an inspiration to the President and to us all.

Our hearts may be filled with sorrow, but let us take comfort in the knowledge there is so much about these heroic astronauts for us to be grateful about. And as we search for solace, we may also find comfort in a verse of the Eternal Father Strong to Save, that as a -- as the son of a Navy submariner, I always thought it was just named "The Navy Hymn." It was written, this verse, especially for our astronauts. "Eternal Father, King of Birth who did create the heaven and earth and bid the planets and the sun their own appointed orbits run. Oh, hear us when we seek thy grace for those who sore through outer space."

At this exact hour, at this exact moment, those seven courageous souls were due back at Cape Canaveral in Florida, so in tribute to these seven courageous heroes, Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Mike Anderson, Dave Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, and Ilan Ramon, who are now in God's welcoming embrace, please join me in a moment of silence, to be followed by the ringing of seven chimes.

(Moment of Silence)

May God bless the crew of STS-107 and their families and those who mourn these valiant explorers.

JEFF ASHBY, NASA ASTRONAUT: One week ago the world lost seven heroes. NASA lost seven members of its family. Our hearts are full of sorrow now as we cope to understand the reasons why and live with the reality that they're no longer among us. But I know that over the next few weeks and months and years that gradually that sorrow in our hearts will be replaced with happiness, a happiness that we've known these people and that we have wonderful memories of their presence and their lives here on Earth. And they did leave us a flood of wonderful memories.

The STS-107 crew was a particularly generous and caring bunch. They had a great sense of humor. They actually baked cakes for their training instructors on their birthdays. Their crew mascot was a small furry animal, a little hamster, I believe, that sung the "Kung Fu Fighting" song. They referred to their crew secretary as "The Great and Powerful Roz," and they successfully convinced her that if she put candy on her desk, she'd see them more often.

I remember the Astronaut Christmas party just a couple of months ago, and soon after it began, it was evident that there was one area in the party, one table that was a little livelier than most, and of course it was their crew. This is the way they were. About an hour into the party, I went over to their table to kind of share in the joy that they had and was very quickly and immediately helped into a seat by Ilan Ramon, at which point his wife tattooed a small "STS-107" emblem on my cheek. They were all wearing them, of course, in various places, and I proudly wore that back over to my table a little bit later. An hour after that, I noticed that the chief of the Astronaut Office had an "STS-107" tattoo in the middle of his forehead.

They were a very fun bunch. They were also a very diverse crew that functioned very flawlessly together. But each of the individuals brought more than technical ability to the crew.

Ilan Ramon from Israel was the perfectly poised fighter pilot with a sparkle in his eyes. His instructors told me of a moment when he stood dressed in the dark blue thermal underwear that we wear under our pressure suits--in his blue thermal underwear with a red Santa Claus hat, and he quipped that "life is not a rehearsal." Ilan taught us a lot about persecution and about his country, and in a very unassuming way, he taught us that, and he dreamed that one day the beauty--the beautiful quiet of space--would come to his own country of Israel.

Laurel Clark was a dedicated professional with many talents. She was also known as the queen of STS-107 paraphernalia. She had a different pastel crew shirt for every day of the week with matching jewelry and matching crew earrings, little logo earrings. She had a perpetual smile. And Laurel would never send an e-mail or phone if she knew you were in the building--she would come and see you personally. No matter how hectic her day, Laurel was also known for always leaving in time to pick up her eight year old son from school.

Mike Anderson: a perfect choice for payload commander. He was organized, thorough, and someone you could absolutely count on. A very gifted leader, Mike was very quiet, very quiet, unless you asked him about his family or his Porsche. Perhaps because he was quiet, we all loved to see Mike laugh so we constantly joked with him, and we found that Mike really knew how to deliver a great punchline at the right time.

Kalpana, or K.C. to us, was admired personally for her extraordinary kindness and technically for her strive for perfection. She was small in stature but very, very big in heart. She had a terrific sense of humor and an absolute passion for flying airplanes. She would fly any time in any plane with anyone. She was, however, the studious one of the bunch and she would drop her humor when they got in the simulator to train, and she would focus very, very intently on the training. And her training team told me that she would tell the rest of her crew, "Cut the comedy, let's get serious," to which they would all just laugh.

Smiling Dave, or Doc to us, was very quiet and observant with piercing blue eyes. He was the bachelor of the group, and as such, was constantly in search of food. And yes, he was seen much more frequently in Roz's office after the M&M machine showed up. He loved cameras, always had one with him, and he would come up to people that he was filming and tell them just ignore him, and his comment was he told them "just to act like a little brown squirrel." I think that referred to the little Kung Fu mascot that they had. He had a keen sense of humor, and after one very demanding simulator run with the crew, he asked K.C. if he could borrow her brain for the next run.

Willie McCool was an incredibly humble man with exceptional talents. He was especially gifted at very quickly mastering technical information, but he was also known for his tremendous consideration for others. He enjoyed surprising people with candy and especially with fresh flowers and Hawaiian leis. He was uncharacteristically punctual for an astronaut and his instructors could remember only one time in two years that he was late for any event. I asked about that time, I asked his instructors and they told me that as the story goes, he was trying to dispatch a cockroach for his wife that morning.

Rick Husband was a terrific human being and great leader. It is his memory that gives me strength to stand up here and talk about this crew this morning. Rick was a very natural stick-and-throttle guy and a tremendous leader with a very "ah, shucks" demeanor and an Amarillo slang. Sometimes we kidded him that we could understand Kalpana better than we could understand Rick's English. Rick had an enviable faith in God, one that I have absorbed somewhat over the last week, and I'm told that he was very close to his church, and I'm told that he donated his -- he had an old Camaro that he drove and we kidded him about it, but he loved that car, and I'm told that he donated it to his church sometime back, and a couple months later went back and asked the pastor if he could buy it back from him, he missed it too much.

Rick molded seven individuals from different parts of the world with diverse backgrounds and various religious beliefs in an incredibly tightknit and productive family. The night before launch Rick gathered his crew together to discuss the final details of the mission and he finished that meeting by reciting from memory the following passage from the Book of Joshua, Chapter 1, verses 6 through 9, and Verse 9 reads, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go."

Rick, Willie, Mike, K.C., Laurel, Dave, and Ilan, I know you are listening this morning. Please know that you will live forever in our hearts, and we will always cherish the memories we have of you and smile when we think of you.

GOVERNOR RICH PERRY: Administrator O'Keefe, members of the NASA family, all the volunteers who have given so much during this recovery effort, we are indebted to you for your courage, for your devotion in this time of great difficulty. Just seven days ago, we were awaiting the successful return of the Space Shuttle Columbia, and today, we mourn the lives of the seven on board. And so close to their final destination, they would encounter a tragic fate that sometimes befalls those who dare to pioneer.

Here in Lufkin and across this state, Texas and all Texans are deeply saddened by this great loss. We grieve for the families that have lost a son or a daughter, a father, a mother, a husband or a wife. We know that they could never be replaced. And we grieve for the thousands at NASA who shared their mission and shared in their lives. Today, we mourn, but as Jeff said earlier, in due time we must also celebrate their cause. In the lives of the seven, we remember, including a commander from Amarillo, a pilot from Lubbock, an aeronautical engineer educated in Arlington, we saw a spirit of boldness, a thirst for knowledge, a determination to reach high, to leave old worlds for new, to make a difference for all mankind.

Such heroes stir the soul, they inspire the imagination, and they point our hearts to great pursuits. They also remind us that the future belongs to the brave and the bold. May we never forget what they gave for us all. May we never forget the importance of their mission, and may we always be a people focused on the far horizon. May the Columbia 7 rest in eternal peace and may the God of comfort and healing touch the hearts of those that they have left behind.

REVEREND WILLIAMS: People remember where they were when President John Kennedy was assassinated. We remember where we were when the Challenger exploded after launch. And one more time, we have an event that will be so embedded in our memory that years later we will remember what we were doing and where we were when someone mentions the Columbia. And I say this because it reveals the magnitude of this tragedy. Friends, family, your nation mourns with you. How we wish we could each take a bit of your anguish and your pain, lightening your burden, but we cannot.

But one thing I can do this morning and that's to share with you some Scripture from God's Holy Word that can bring comfort and that can bring healing. From the writings of King David, Israel's greatest king, we read the words that tell of God's omniscience and God's omnipresence. First, the words that tell us that God knows everything. David writes, "Oh, Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise. You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down. You're familiar with all my ways. And before a word is even on my tongue, you know it completely." King David tells us that God knows all. And before any of us were ever born, God knew how STS-107 would end.

Now, does that fact, does that fact make God uncaring, unloving, because he did not stop this tragedy? No. In fact, the next few verses tell us why as they describe God's omnipresence. David said, "You hem me in. Behind and before. God, you're in front of me and behind me. You have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is just too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain or understand. And where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you're there. And if I make my bed in the depths, you're there. And if I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, your right hand, his hand of power, will hold me fast."

This great Israelite tells us that God is everywhere. The practical application is God was there at launch of the Columbia 7. God was there when they reached orbit. And yes, God was even there when that Shuttle disintegrated over our heads. His hands were there and his heart was there, because God feels our anguish and our pain.

Well, David reverts back into the previous thought of God's omniscience when he writes, "When I was woven together in the depths of the Earth, symbolic talk for his mother's womb, your eye saw my unformed body. All the days ordained me -- ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to me." David says, "God, you knew me before I was born. You knew what would take place in my life. Before I was even conceived, it was all written down in your book."

You see, friends, God knew even before he created this Earth that the crew of STS-107 would make their final approach on February 1, 2003. Now, again, does that make God uncaring? No. Since God knows everything, he knew when those members of that crew would need him the most. And because he's everywhere, he was there. He did not miss his appointment.

Now, members of the NASA team, I realize that you, too, hurt immensely. These were your co-workers, your teammates, your friends, your family members. You miss them and you hurt for their families. And knowing human nature, some of you may be second-guessing, "Was there anything we could have done differently?" Let me say a word to you. Like many little boys, I, too, grew up with the skies in my eyes. I, too, dreamed of what it would be like to slip the surly bonds of Earth and dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings. I'm old enough to remember America's first manned space flight with Alan Shepard aboard. I remember where I was and what I was doing when Neil Armstrong first planted mankind's first footprint upon the moon. Because of my love for aviation and space, I have followed the unsurpassed endeavors of your efforts to push back the black envelope of space.

And I know, Mr. O'Keefe, I know of your unsurpassed dedication and commitment to excellence and to safety. And I want you to know, members of NASA, that America is still behind you. We still believe in you and we pray for you.

And we pray for those of you who are here seeking to determine the cause of this disaster. And we pray for those of you who are here with us in East Texas with the unenviable task of trying to collect thousands of pieces of debris. And we pray for you, we pray that God will give you keen eyesight and then great insight so that the NASA team can have the foresight to accomplish their already-stated goal of never allowing this tragedy to happen again.

As a pilot, I've always loved Robert Gillespie McGee's great work entitled "High Flight." Allow me to close with it. "Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings. Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds and done a hundred things you've not dreamed of. Wheeled and soured and swung high in the sunlit silence. Hovering there, I've chased the shouting wind along and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air. Up, up the long delirious burning blue, I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace where never lark or eagle flew. And while the silent lifting mind I've tried, the high unsurpassed sanctity of space, put out my hand and touched the face of God."

Robert McGee closes his writing stating, "I have reached out my hand and touched the face of God." It is my prayer this morning that God will reach out his hand and touch your face and your heart.

REVEREND KENNEDY: Please stand. God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who hath brought us thus far on the way, thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us, oh Lord, we pray. Oh, thou who had created this world and put in order this wondrous sphere in which we live, thou knoweth all things in earth and heaven, fill our hearts with trust in thee, by night and by day, at all times and in all things. We commend these dear loved ones of ours to you, to your ever -- never-ending love. From this life to the life to come, may your Holy Spirit be with each of us. This is our benediction.