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Public Statements

Commemorating the Columbia Astronauts

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, like many of my colleagues, I wish to discuss the national tragedy that occurred on Saturday morning and to pay tribute to the seven brave men and women who lost their lives in the space shuttle Columbia disaster.
Just like people around the country, I was beginning my day on Saturday and tuning into the news programs when I learned that NASA had lost contact with the Shuttle Columbia. I was riveted to the developments as they unfolded on television and was devastated when our President addressed the Nation, announcing what we all suspected at that point, "The Columbia is lost; There are no survivors."

My heart and prayers go out to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia and their families. While space travel has in some ways become routine to the American public, this tragedy is a vivid reminder of the inherent risks these brave men and women undertake to pursue the boundaries of space and science. On this day, and in the future, they deserve to be remembered for the lives they lived and I hope we will do that.

In the days that have followed the tragedy, we have all become familiar with the backgrounds of the Columbia astronauts. They were men and women of such accomplishment and capability that it begins to make the extraordinary seem ordinary, but such a characterization is not fair to them. Our astronaut corps continues to attract the best of the best, and to require an unparalleled standard of achievement and excellence. For many shuttle astronauts, the opportunity to participate in a shuttle mission is the dream of a lifetime and for all of them, it is the culmination of a lifetime of hard work.

I remember my excitement as a child, clipping articles about the Mercury missions and hanging them on the bulletin board in my bedroom. Today, Idaho's school children do the same with articles about the International Space Station and the missions of our space shuttle fleet. Many kids follow the progress of various NASA missions in their classrooms. NASA considers this educational outreach a critical, core mission and a major purpose for its existence as an agency. In fact, in a recent meeting I had with NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, he spent much of our time together discussing the ways that NASA is working to excite students about math and science. This is vital work. It must continue.

Although Congress and NASA are now getting on with the business of investigating what went wrong, nothing should deter us from the important missions of our national space program. I join with my colleagues today in saluting the Columbia astronauts and those at NASA who make it possible for us to explore our universe.

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