Memorial Service for Columbia
February 4, 2003
Their mission was almost
complete, and we lost them so close to home. The men and
women of the Columbia had journeyed more than 6 million
miles and were minutes away from arrival and reunion.
The loss was sudden and terrible, and for their families,
the grief is heavy. Our nation shares in your sorrow and
in your pride. And today we remember not only one moment
of tragedy, but seven lives of great purpose and achievement.
To leave behind Earth and air and gravity is an ancient
dream of humanity. For these seven, it was a dream fulfilled.
Each of these astronauts had the daring and discipline
required of their calling. Each of them knew that great
endeavors are inseparable from great risks. And each of
them accepted those risks willingly, even joyfully, in
the cause of discovery.
Rick Husband was a boy of four when he first thought of
being an astronaut. As a man, and having become an astronaut,
he found it was even more important to love his family
and serve his Lord. One of Rick's favorite hymns was, "How
Great Thou Art," which offers these words of praise: "I
see the stars. I hear the mighty thunder. Thy power throughout
the universe displayed."
David Brown was first drawn to the stars as a little boy
with a telescope in his back yard. He admired astronauts,
but, as he said, "I thought they were movie stars.
I thought I was kind of a normal kid." David grew
up to be a physician, an aviator who could land on the
deck of a carrier in the middle of the night, and a shuttle
His brother asked him several weeks ago what would happen
if something went wrong on their mission. David replied, "This
program will go on."
Michael Anderson always wanted to fly planes, and rose
to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the Air Force. Along the
way, he became a role model -- especially for his two daughters
and for the many children he spoke to in schools. He said
to them, "Whatever you want to be in life, you're
training for it now." He also told his minister, "If
this thing doesn't come out right, don't worry about me,
I'm just going on higher."
Laurel Salton Clark was a physician and a flight surgeon
who loved adventure, loved her work, loved her husband
and her son. A friend who heard Laurel speaking to Mission
Control said, "There was a smile in her voice."
Laurel conducted some of the experiments as Columbia orbited
the Earth, and described seeing new life emerge from a
tiny cocoon. "Life," she said, "continues
in a lot of places, and life is a magical thing."
None of our astronauts traveled a longer path to space
than Kalpana Chawla. She left India as a student, but she
would see the nation of her birth, all of it, from hundreds
of miles above. When the sad news reached her home town,
an administrator at her high school recalled, "She
always said she wanted to reach the stars. She went there,
and beyond." Kalpana's native country mourns her today,
and so does her adopted land.
Ilan Ramon also flew above his home, the land of Israel.
He said, "The quiet that envelopes space makes the
beauty even more powerful. And I only hope that the quiet
can one day spread to my country." Ilan was a patriot;
the devoted son of a holocaust survivor, served his country
in two wars. "Ilan," said his wife, Rona, "left
us at his peak moment, in his favorite place, with people
The Columbia's pilot was Commander Willie McCool, whom
friends knew as the most steady and dependable of men.
In Lubbock today they're thinking back to the Eagle Scout
who became a distinguished Naval officer and a fearless
test pilot. One friend remembers Willie this way: "He
was blessed, and we were blessed to know him."
Our whole nation was blessed to have such men and women
serving in our space program. Their loss is deeply felt,
especially in this place, where so many of you called them
friends. The people of NASA are being tested once again.
In your grief, you are responding as your friends would
have wished -- with focus, professionalism, and unbroken
faith in the mission of this agency.
Captain Brown was correct: America's space program will
This cause of exploration and discovery is not an option
we choose; it is a desire written in the human heart. We
are that part of creation which seeks to understand all
creation. We find the best among us, send them forth into
unmapped darkness, and pray they will return. They go in
peace for all mankind, and all mankind is in their debt.
Yet, some explorers do not return. And the loss settles
unfairly on a few. The families here today shared in the
courage of those they loved. But now they must face life
and grief without them. The sorrow is lonely; but you are
not alone. In time, you will find comfort and the grace
to see you through. And in God's own time, we can pray
that the day of your reunion will come.
And to the children who miss your Mom or Dad so much today,
you need to know, they love you, and that love will always
be with you. They were proud of you. And you can be proud
of them for the rest of your life.
The final days of their own lives were spent looking down
upon this Earth. And now, on every continent, in every
land they could see, the names of these astronauts are
known and remembered. They will always have an honored
place in the memory of this country. And today I offer
the respect and gratitude of the people of the United States.
May God bless you all.
Also see: Responses
to Memorial Service Remarks
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