- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA workers stood united in sorrow yesterday, one year after the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart and fell in flaming streaks from the Texas sky.

“One year ago, at this very hour, the unthinkable occurred,” Jim Kennedy, director of the Kennedy Space Center, told the crowd of a few hundred who had gathered on a gray, drizzly morning at a NASA memorial commemorating fallen astronauts.

Mr. Kennedy quietly recited the names of the Columbia astronauts, carved into the black granite monument behind him: Col. Rick D. Husband, Cmdr. William McCool, Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson, Capt. David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Cmdr. Laurel B. Clark and Israel’s first astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon.

“They were our friends. They are our heroes. Their loss will not be in vain. We will come back bigger, better and stronger than ever before, and I can assure you that crew and their beloved families will never, ever be forgotten,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Almost all the mourners held a long-stemmed rose. After the brief outdoor ceremony, they tucked the red, yellow, peach and ivory-colored roses into the white fence surrounding the memorial.

The ceremony began at 9 a.m. EST, the instant the National Aeronautics and Space Administration lost communication with Columbia over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003.

It ended at 9:16 a.m., the time the spacecraft should have landed on the Kennedy Space Center runway. By then, Columbia had shattered into tens of thousands of pieces that crashed down on Texas and Louisiana.

A piece of fuel-tank foam insulation had torn a hole in Columbia’s left wing during the mid-January liftoff and allowed hot atmospheric gases to enter during atmospheric re-entry.

Knowing the astronauts well made the anniversary all the more painful for Arthur Willett, a shuttle-recovery worker who spent three weeks in Texas picking up the pieces. “Even though working in this program day to day, you realize those things can happen, until they do, it’s hard to take that burden on,” he said, gripping a rose.

Tributes also were held in many of the eastern Texas towns where the wreckage fell. The husbands of the two women who died aboard Columbia attended a memorial in Hemphill, in a packed Veterans of Foreign Wars hall. The memorial ended more than an hour later with a 21-gun salute.

A memorial will be dedicated in a private ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery today. It will be a few feet away from the memorial to the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which was lost January 28, 1986.

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