NASA Commemorates 5-year Anniversary of Columbia Loss
A crowd of people from around the world gathered Friday at the Space Mirror Memorial in Florida to honor the seven astronauts of space shuttle Columbia’s STS-107 mission on the fifth anniversary of the accident.
The courtyard at the memorial at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex echoed with remembrances of crew members Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark and Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon.
"Today is a day when we remind ourselves that not quitting has high cost or can have high costs," said NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. "For the people who remain behind and bear them, we want them always to know that they remain part of our family. And we don’t forget."
Columbia's seven astronauts were lost during reentry after completing a 16-day science mission.
The mission commander's widow, Evelyn Husband-Thompson, addressed the audience in a slow tone, her voice often breaking as she recalled hearing the news about the shuttle.
"All of our families went through so much that day," she said. "We so miss them and we will never forget them. And I can't thank each of you enough for being here to honor their memory and contribution to our nation today."
Many of the mourners held pink, white, red or orange long-stemmed roses which they tucked into the white fence surrounding the memorial after the ceremony ended.
Retired astronaut Eileen Collins, who commanded the first shuttle mission following Columbia in 2005, said the tragedy was not in vain because it showed NASA there were lots of lessons to be learned. In honoring their lives, she stressed the importance of continued space exploration.
"(Astronauts) have a belief that exploration is important to our planet and all of its people," Collins said. "At some point in the future, people will leave our planet on a routine basis. And I believe this type of exploration will not only serve to benefit our planet, but will make our quality of life better."
Kennedy Space Center Director William Parsons echoed her sentiments.
"While we grieve their loss with heavy hearts, this nation honors their sacrifices by continuing the journey they were such strong advocates for," Parsons said. "We build upon our past and prepare for our future. And our fallen heroes will live in every small step we take."
Anita Pantano, who works for Space Gateway Support, kept her head down as she clasped three roses.
"I'm always thinking of the seven astronauts," she said through tears.
The public lined the rails at the memorial to take part in the hour-long service and remember the STS-107 crew.
"We wanted to come today and see for ourselves," said Larry Schwefel of Wisconsin. "It's an honor to be here, and it seems more real."
Other speakers at the ceremony included William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations; William Readdy, former space shuttle commander; Luther Richardson, winner of the 2007 Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award; and G. Madhavan Nair, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization.
Tanya Nguyen, Staff Writer
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center