My fellow Americans, this day has brought terrible news and great sadness to our country. At 9:00 a.m. this morning, Mission Control in Houston lost contact with our Space Shuttle Columbia. A short time later, debris was seen falling from the skies above Texas. The Columbia is lost; there are no survivors.
I don’t have many of those “I remember where I was” moments, but the Columbia disaster is one of them. On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke apart in the skies over Texas while returning from her mission. All seven crew members were killed.
In 2003, the interest in spaceflight that would eventually grow into a career had already taken hold of me. I was simply awestruck by those beautiful machines and the brave people who flew them. On that Saturday morning, my family had the news turned to the STS-107 reentry coverage. When the crew did not check in after 9:00, there was a brief interval in the news coverage where they speculated about communications problems with the spacecraft or perhaps the network news feed.
Then footage started coming in of the fireball.
In an age when space flight has come to seem almost routine, it is easy to overlook the dangers of travel by rocket, and the difficulties of navigating the fierce outer atmosphere of the Earth. These astronauts knew the dangers, and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life. Because of their courage and daring and idealism, we will miss them all the more.
At first, there was disbelief. Then came fear, and finally sorrow. In the first few moments, it was tempting to explain it away as some kind of non-fatal accident. But before our eyes, the fireball disintegrated into hundreds of embers, streaking through the sky like a meteor shower. Now there was no doubt in the mind of anyone who was watching: the shuttle was totally lost, and her crew was doomed. At roughly 200,000 feet and 15 times the speed of sound, there was precisely zero chance of survival.
On board was a crew of seven: Colonel Rick Husband; Lt. Colonel Michael Anderson; Commander Laurel Clark; Captain David Brown; Commander William McCool; Dr. Kalpana Chawla; and Ilan Ramon, a Colonel in the Israeli Air Force. These men and women assumed great risk in the service to all humanity.
Rest in peace, you seven brave souls. My nation reposed its highest trust in you, and you performed your duty honorably.
In the skies today we saw destruction and tragedy. Yet farther than we can see there is comfort and hope. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”
The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home.
May God bless the grieving families, and may God continue to bless America.