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Remembering the Columbia 7: Washington National Cathedral Memorial for Astronauts

Aired February 6, 2003 - 10:15   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. As the nation's capital pauses to remember the crew of seven of the space shuttle Columbia. I'm here at the National Cathedral in Northwest Washington and a Tuesday's service in Houston at the Johnson Space Center was intended for the NASA family, for the families of the loved ones of the astronauts. This service today is meant for the nation, for Americans who come together to remember the seven who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
You are listening to and watching now a rabbi, Rabbi Warren Stone, president of Washington -- I'm sorry, it is now Sean O'Keefe, who is a NASA administrator. After Sean O'Keefe, we'll be hearing from the singer Patti LaBelle and a little later Vice President Dick Cheney.

Let's listen to the administrator.

SEAN O'KEEFE, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: ... they serve as our goodwill ambassadors to the universe. Every time we send humans into space, our astronauts look up to the starry firmament, seeking to extend our horizons throughout the vast expanse of God's creation.

Our explorers go forward into the unknown with hope and faith. As commander Rick Husband said, there is no way that you can look at the stars, at the Earth, at the moon, and not come to realize there is a God out there who has a plan and who has laid out the universe.

In this magnificent cathedral, a portion of the lunar surface, brought back to Earth by moonwalkers Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin is encased in a precious stained glass window.

As we worship today in celebration of seven wonderful lives, this glorious window reminds us that the exploration of space will go on, propelled by the human urge to strive, to seek, to find and not yield and by our common faith in our creator.

Our astronauts also have another role. By pursuing research to improve people's lives and expand our understanding of the natural world, these brave individuals help pioneer the future in ways undreamed by our ancestors.

This was the noble work that joyfully motivated our seven courageous Columbia crew when they ascended to the heavens three weeks ago.

Now some day due to our astronauts' dedicated space research, we may find better means of fighting cancer, of delivering life-saving drugs, helping our parents and grandparents stay healthy throughout their lives.

We will always thank the crew of Columbia STS-107 mission for their passionate commitment to this cause. Of course, our astronauts count on all of the talented men and women of the NASA family represented here today.

To help advance these ambitious research objectives, they're amazing people, public servants who make up the NASA family. Every day our scientists, engineers, safety and support folks come to work at all of our centers, thankful for the opportunity to engage in such exciting, meaningful work on behalf of the American people. It is through their efforts that we are making tangible progress in our quest to improve aviation safety and efficiency, promote medical discoveries, probe more deeply into the universe, explore the planets and better understand the dynamics of Earth's climate system.

While this is a difficult period for men and women of the NASA family, we will persevere. The support we receive from the astronauts' families, from the president, from the vice president and from the nation has been of tremendous strength. We will not let you down.

Throughout this period of mourning, the brave families of the Columbia crew have been rocks of courage and dignity, providing much comfort to the nation and inspiration to us all.

Dave Brown's parents, Paul and Dorothy, along with their -- his brother Dave, are here with us today, leading, I'm told, a very impressive contingent of the Brown family.

As our John and Ian Clark, Laurel Clark's family and Master Sergeant Jimmy Danieli (ph), Mike Anderson's brother-in-law. To you, and to all of the families of the Columbia astronauts, we thank you for your incredible fortitude.

To honor of the legacy of the Columbia astronauts, we made a solemn commitment to their family to find the cause of the accident, correct whatever problems we may find and safely move forward with our work. Motivated by our mission goals of understanding and protecting the home planet, exploring the universe and searching for life and inspiring the next generation of explorers, we mail make good on this commitment.

The last element of our mission, to inspire the next generation of explorers, is very important to NASA. It is a passion of ours. And because of the memory of the gallant 107 crew has done so much to inspire our youth, our shining hope for the future, to carry forth a torch of exploration and discovery, we are forever grateful to the Columbia astronauts.

As you might imagine, NASA has received a tremendous outpouring of condolences, the loss of the Columbia crew from people throughout the world. It struck us often how folks have pointed out the unique role that holds in many ways, the astronauts have, on our young and young at heart.

One gracious letter came us to from Rosemary Callahan, the fifth grade teacher in Arlington Virginia's St. Charles school. She wrote her letter after her students had thoughtfully taken time to write their own letters of condolence. And we thank them for their heartfelt gesture. In representing her students, we're honored to have Rosemary with us here today.

I'd like to read from her letter, which was written on Monday. "Today on the chalkboard, I wrote the definition of a hero: a person admired for bravery, great deeds or noble qualities. In the wake of the tragedy of Columbia, and its astronauts, seven people have come to light as modern-day heroes. They were heroes, people of great character and depth, long before Saturday.

"When profiled in the media, they were recognized for their spit, great intellect with a desire to learn and give to others, well rounded people who could function together as a team. People who grabbed at life for the great and simple things. Indeed, they were the best."

Rosemary concluded these words by writing, "Our children continue to need heroes, real heroes. May your beloved astronauts continue to inspire all as you move forward. Your hearts are heavy now, but in time, God grant you a light heart again."

In this time of enormous sadness, these words from the book of revelation are most comforting -- "and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." The writer speaks of those who are at rest with God. These words also have significance for us, who are still here on our earthly pilgrimage. God will wipe away the tears from our eyes.

Our hope is not ultimately a hope granted in the progress of human achievement, as remarkable as that may be. Rather, it is a hope grounded in the creator who calls Rick, Willie, Michael, Kalpana, David, Laurel, Ilan and each of us by name. May we have the faith to lift the eyes to the heavens as they did and find there God's peace.

May god bless the crew of STS-107, and may he lighten the hearts of their families and all who mourn for these valiant heroes.

WOODRUFF: NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe reading from the Bible there at the end. Singer Patti LaBelle will be performing now, and she will be followed by Vice President Dick Cheney. We just saw him in the audience with his wife, Lynne Cheney.

PATTI LABELLE, SINGER: ... that I recorded for NASA, and my heart is with you. I'm ready.


COL. ROBERT D. CABANA, MARINE CORPS (RET.): The last few days have been extremely trying for those of us within the NASA family, and for our entire nation. We grieve for the loss of our crewmates, our friends, our family. Once again, we've shown how fragile life is on this planet, and the risk we take when we explore beyond it. The crew of Columbia was willing to accept those risks for the promise of what might come, from the research they did on their 16-day science mission. This was a special and diverse crew of mixed ethnicity, gender, and religious belief, bound as one in pursuit of a common and noble goal: to improve life for all of us here on planet Earth through the science they were conducted in space.

There was nothing flashy about them. They performed flawlessly with understated excellence and were an example for us all of what we can accomplish when we work together as one.

I'd like to share with you the faith that they had and the strength I've gained from them. It all began before leaving the suit room on launch day to head for the "astrovan" on the way to the pad. The commander, Rick Husband, stopped before exiting, turned to his crew, and the seven embraced as one: Jew, Hindu, Christian, together, and Rick led them in prayer.

As they rode to the pad, they were filled with joy, anticipation, and excitement and an inner peace that they were ready for whatever may lie ahead.

Colonel Ilan Ramon of the Israeli Air Force, he was in his element on orbit. At one point, when asked by the flight surgeon how he felt, he responded, I am sick. And his flight surgeon said, What's wrong? And he responded, I have ground sickness. I must stay in space longer. I cannot return to Earth.

Captain Dave Brown, United States Navy, not only a medical doctor, but a naval aviator and an astronaut on top of that. He lived to explore, to do research, to find new cures, and he was fulfilled working in the laboratory aboard Columbia. It was where he was meant to be.

Kalpana Chawla, or K.C., as we affectionately called her -- don't let that diminutive frame fool you, the tenacity with which he tore into a problem and solved it was amazing. I have never met anyone with the discipline that K.C. had. Whenever I could make it to the gym before work in the morning, she was always there. I wrote her an e-mail while she was on orbit, and I said I missed seeing her at her morning workouts in the gym. She told me not to worry, she was getting her workouts in space, and then she challenged me to a pushup contest, but only while she was still in micro gravity.

Lieutenant Colonel Mike Anderson, United States Air Force, one of the finest officers I have ever known, a mild mannered nice guy who excelled at all that he did. I never saw Mike lose his cool. He had a unique way to bring people together, find a common solution to difficult problems. He was rock solid, and he was somebody I wanted on my team.

Commander Laurel Clark, United States Navy. Laurel's effervescent personality was contagious. She always had a smile, and tackled every assignment with zeal. You didn't want to get in her way when she was on a mission. She was driven to succeed, and I will miss the love that she had to share with everyone.

Commander Willie McCool, United States Navy. Willie McCool, is that a cool name for a test pilot astronaut or what? But that wasn't Willie's style. He, too, was a quiet, mild mannered nice guy who demonstrated his skill not with bravado, but with excellence and a helping hand that was always ready. Prior to each flight, I make it a point to remind the first-time flyers to make a memory. Time on orbit is extremely expensive, and it's easy to get caught up in the timeline and not realize where you are and what a unique opportunity you have and what a special place it is.

And you have to plant your nose in front of a window and make a memory. Don't take a picture of it; you'll be disappointed when you get home because it will never match what you keep in your brain with the eyes that God has given you. It will never fade like a picture. It will always be there, and no one can ever take it away from you.

I sent Willie a note on orbit, and I asked him if he had made his memory yet. He replied, not only had he made one, but he had made many more. Flying in space was more than he could have possibly imagined, and he was so proud to be there and have the opportunity to serve.

Colonel Rick Husband, United States Air Force -- why break the mold with this crew? Another mild mannered antithesis of what one thinks of as a fighter pilot, a leader of the highest caliber, but what really set Rick apart was his faith. I only wish I had half of it. For those of us who are shuttle commanders, we always worry about our landing, how it's going to come out. It gets analyzed to the minutest detail when we return, and let's face it: when you're landing a $3 billion spaceship, you don't want to look bad.

When I was talking with Rick's wife Evelyn the other evening, she shared that Rick was concerned about having a really good landing, and he prayed, prior to his mission, with his family that he would make the perfect landing. He needn't have been concerned. Rick was a gifted pilot and he would have nailed it. Evelyn pointed out that by hers and Rick's standards, it really was a perfect landing. Rick is home safe with his Lord.

They will all be missed, but they will never be forgotten. They have shown us how space exploration and the pursuit of a noble goal can bind us together as one, unimpeded by differences in race, gender, and religion. They set a standard of excellence in their lives and faith in their creator that can be an example for us all, and we are truly blessed for having known them.

It's difficult for us at a time like this to understand what has happened. I would like to close with a Bible verse that Rick Husband signed on each of his pictures.

From the Old Testament, Proverbs 3:5-6 -- "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

He has made straight the paths of the crew of STS-107, and he will be with all of us as we carry on.

WOODRUFF: Retired Marine Colonel Robert Cabana, NASA astronaut, very close to the Columbia seven crew, and with very personal remembrances of each of the seven, humorous anecdotes about what they said before this mission or on this mission, Kalpana Chawla saying that she was going to compete in pushups, but only out in space, where there is no gravity.

The next tribute will come from Vice President Dick Cheney, who was not in Houston with the president on Tuesday when Mr. Bush made the stirring tribute to the seven. It so often falls to the vice president to speak at state funerals, events like this, but in an event as this one, when a nation mourns, it's the president, the vice president and so many others who are part of our national leadership who take part in leading us all.

Again, the service continues, at the National Cathedral here in Washington, remembering the crew of the space shuttle Columbia.


WOODRUFF: We've been listening to the United States Air Force Singing Sergeants, part of the program here at the National Cathedral in Washington as the nation mourns the crew of the seven on the Columbia space shuttle. Vice President Dick Cheney making his way to the front of the cathedral now to speak to an audience that includes former astronaut, former Senator John Glenn, who's been speaking up the last few days, saying the space program must continue, should continue.

Vice President Cheney.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are here today to honor the memory of seven lost explorers; to mourn seven good men and women; and to offer the respects of a grateful nation.

Saturday morning brought terrible news to all Americans, and the flag of our country was lowered to half-staff in honor of our fallen Columbia astronauts.

They were soldiers and scientists, doctors and pilots. But above all, they were explorers.

Each of them followed his or her own path to the space program. Each led a life of high purpose and high achievement.

The crew of the Columbia was united not by faith or heritage, but by the calling they answered and shared. They were bound together in the great cause of discovery. They were envoys to the unknown. They advanced human understanding by showing human courage.

The men and women aboard the Columbia were driven by a fierce determination to make life better here on Earth by unlocking the mysteries of space. Their 16-day, 6-million-mile mission was devoted to research, and they worked 24 hours a day, in alternating shifts, on experiments in the physical sciences, the life sciences and the space sciences.

Every great act of exploration involves great risk. The crew of the Columbia accepted that risk in service to all mankind.

The Columbia is lost, but the dreams that inspired its crew remain with us. Those dreams are carried by the families of the astronauts who even in grief have urged that America go on with our space program. The legacy of Columbia must carry on, they tell us, for the benefit of our children and yours.

Those dreams are carried by the dedicated men and women of NASA who, time and time again, have achieved the seemingly impossible, and whose strength and skill will return us to space.

And the dreams of the Columbia crew will continue to inspire America. We are a nation of pioneers and immigrants, of bold explorers and discoverers, and we have invited kindred souls from many nations to join us in the greatest of all voyages. In doing so, we honor the heritage of our country and help shape the future of all mankind.

Two generations ago, the United States embarked on a course of space exploration. Today, despite this tragedy, we remain on that course. And while many memorials will be built to honor Columbia's crew, their greatest memorial will be a vibrant space program with new missions carried out by a new generation of brave explorers.

America and all the world will always remember the first flight of the Columbia in 1981, and we will never forget the men and women of her final voyage: Willie McCool, Kalpana Chawla, Ilan Ramon, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Rick Husband.

May a merciful God receive these seven souls. May He comfort their families.

May He help our nation to bear this heavy loss. And may He guide us forward in exploring his creation.

WOODRUFF: Vice President Dick Cheney, remembering the seven, the crew of the Columbia shuttle as explorers, explorers all, and he said, at the end, he said their greatest memory, their greatest legacy will be of vibrant space program, a space program that continues for our generation and for our children's generation. He said the legacy of this shuttle Columbia must carry on for all of us. This service at the National Cathedral here in Washington, a service for the nation, as we mourn the seven ordinary, extraordinary Americans who gave their life in service to science and to all of us.

I'm Judy Woodruff, this concludes our coverage of the memorial service.


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