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Public Statements

Commemorating the Columbia Astronauts

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I and all of my colleagues, and I think, all Americans, have been in a period of mourning as a result of the situation that occurred about 9:15 or 9:16 this past Saturday, as many of us watched in horror, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrate over the continental United States.

All of us in the Senate have had the privilege over the years of meeting many of our astronauts, and certainly even serving with some of them right here in the Senate. We have known of the phenomenal dedication and commitment of these men and women who do this very important work. It is a life of pursuing a challenge, and the reward was the service itself. It was not financial, it was not a large trophy. It was the challenge of the service and what they could provide for our country and for all mankind. I think yesterday, as many witnessed the memorial service at the Johnson Space Center in Houston—I was unable to attend—we were reminded once again of the phenomenal caliber and capability of these seven people.

Barbara Morgan from my State has pursued being an astronaut for many years. She was, up until now—and may still be—scheduled to fly into space within the year. She was part of the original teacher's program—one of those on standby and ready to go up when the Challenger went up and was lost. I have seen the excitement of being an astronaut and of achieving as an astronaut—for herself, yes, but for the American people—through the eyes and enthusiasm of Ms. Morgan.

So I am reminded through her, and what I know of her, of the caliber and talent of these people who are selected to become our astronauts.

We will now set about trying to find out what went wrong, as we should, because one wonderful thing about our space program from the very beginning, is we always erred on the side of human safety. We were always extremely cautious and we built phenomenal systems of redundancy to assure that the primary role was to guarantee—or at least provide—the optimum safety that we were technologically capable of doing; and something clearly has gone wrong. It is now our job and the job of NASA to be able to find out and to rectify it for future space travel.

I just said future space travel. I am an enthusiast of the space program and always have been. In the 20-plus years I have served in Congress, I have always supported NASA and all of its efforts. It is within this country's capability, and it is within the full character of our country that we do as we have done in the space program, and that is push and explore the unknown. We were founded, we became a country, we discovered our landmass. Some people thought they might fall over the edge of the earth because some who were on that maiden voyage with Columbus thought the earth was flat and surely they would sail off into the unknown and go over the edge, never to be heard from again. It was that kind of daring that made us what we are.

Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I had the privilege of traveling to Monticello for the commencement program of the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark. Of course, I am from Idaho. In those days, they didn't know there was an Idaho; they just knew there was a wilderness out there that nobody had penetrated before. It was the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson on that day in 1803 to have written a letter to Congress asking for $2,500 to put a team together to explore the unknown. Did they ever think they would return? They didn't know it. There was no guarantee. The risks were high. Of course, all the rest is history.

What we witnessed last Saturday morning was a phenomenal reminder of the great spirit of adventure and the challenge that Americans have met for literally centuries. We are also reminded it is not just going down to the airport and getting on a shuttle. We have become relatively complacent that shuttles flew and there was an inherent amount of safety in them simply because they were flying so often—only to find out that simply was not the case. I hope—and I am confident of it—we will find remedies to the obvious problem that took the lives of seven wonderful human beings last Saturday and, in finding that, we will make another major step forward in allowing humans to travel into outer space and explore, or to allow their genius to travel into outer space and explore. For the adventure of it? Sure, but also for the applications of adventure and the tools of exploration that we then apply in our own lives—whether it is, in fact, velcro, or the miniaturization of the electronic equipment that is a direct result of space travel that we use in all of our lives today to allow us to live more efficiently and be more productive.

That is part of the total investment that is the space program—the ability of this great country to push the outer limits and allow the genius of our people the resources to do just that. So we stand in awe of those who travel in outer space. But Saturday and yesterday were reminders that they are human, and that it is a very dangerous and risky business we pursue in the business of adventure, the business of pushing the unknown, and the great reward for accomplishing and succeeding in doing so.

I yield the floor.

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