Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I rise today to pay tribute to the men and women who lost their lives on the space shuttle Columbia and offer my condolences to their families and to the entire NASA community. Like all Americans, they are in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.
Early Saturday morning, the crew of the Columbia was preparing to reenter the Earth's atmosphere after a 16-day mission to conduct scientific experiments. Five of the seven astronauts were on their first space flight. By all accounts, the mission had been a success, and some of the astronauts jokingly complained to mission controllers about having to come home. The crew included Dr. Kalpana Chawla, a mechanical engineer and Indian immigrant, William McCool, a Navy test pilot, Dr. David Brown, a Navy physician, COL Ilan Ramon, an Israeli fighter pilot, Laurel Clark, a Navy flight surgeon, and two veterans of the space program, Mission Commander Rick Husband and Payload Commander Michael Anderson. Fourteen minutes into reentry, as the shuttle passed through the upper atmosphere and reached temperatures as hot as 2,000 degrees, it broke apart above northern Texas, taking these seven remarkable individuals down with it.
This was a world tragedy as much as it was an American tragedy. The crew of the Columbia reflected our diverse planet as much as it did a cross section of America. Dr. Chawla was a hero in her native India, as was COL Ramon in Israel. Both were on their first space flight. Millions of people around the world reacted in horror as they watched footage of the Columbia streaking across the Texas sky. They share in our deep sense of grief.
I am confident we will complete an exhaustive investigation to determine what went wrong. All questions need to be answered before we send our best and brightest back into space. However, I firmly believe that we must press on. We must continue the exploration of space. I have always supported the space program because I believe it is in the best interests of mankind to unlock the mysteries of life on earth and beyond. The shuttle missions have helped us understand global warming, weather patterns, and the effects of weightlessness on the human body, aided in the understanding of disease, and exponentially increased our understanding of the universe. It would be impossible to quantify the knowledge we have gained from sending men and women into space.
Space flight brings out the best in us. It challenges us to think big, to strive for greatness, and to work together to achieve the most important goals. There is no doubt in my mind that we should continue these missions and prepare the next generation of astronauts for the challenges that lay ahead. To be sure, there is great risk.
However, if it weren't difficult, if it didn't promise to improve the quality of our lives and our understanding of the world, then it wouldn't be worth doing. Yesterday the families of the Columbia 7 issued a statement expressing that sentiment: "Although we grieve deeply, as do the families of Apollo 1 and Challenger before us, the bold exploration of space must go on."
This tragedy has touched each and every one of us. These selfless heroes were dedicated to a cause greater then themselves. They were passionate about space flight, passionate about their mission, and were committed to making life better for all of us. They will be missed, and they will never be forgotten.