- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 (UPI) — President and Mrs. Bush will attended a memorial service on Tuesday for the crew of space shuttle Columbia at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, the White House announced as the president reaffirmed his faith in science and space exploration.

In a telephone briefing for reporters, White House spokesman Air Fleischer said the president will fly to Houston for a 12:45 service with families and members of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

"From the president's point of view," said Fleischer, "the mission of science and the marvels of space exploration will go on. He wants to make certain that every angle, every reason, every possibility of how this happened will be independently reviewed."

Earlier Sunday, President and Mrs. Bush attended a church service with members of the congregation of St. John's Church near the White House as the Rev. Louis Leon said: "God's heart is more heart broken than our own, and I believe they're already resting."

Leon said the astronauts represented the explorer's spirit in all of us and asked the congregation to pray "for that spirit to be kept alive in us." The president and Mrs. Bush bowed their heads in prayer.

On Monday, Bush meets with NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe to get an up-to-the-minute briefing on the progress of the NASA investigation. He has instructed O'Keefe to proceed to Capitol Hill where he will brief the 16 chairmen and ranking minority members on the key committees that oversee the space program.

The White House meeting Monday, Fleischer said, "is expected to provide the president with the latest information about the investigation, a review of the investigation team, review of Homeland Security's role and interagency coordination."

Fleischer declined to speculate whether the president would appoint a special presidential investigation commission. He said there are two investigations under way: an internal NASA inquiry and an independent board review mandated after the Challenger disaster in 1986.

Fleischer acknowledged that NASA budgets had been cut over the past decade but noted that there were increases in 2002 and 2003. There is reportedly some $500 million in additional funds in the 2004 budget request coming out Monday, bringing the agency's budget to $15 billion.

But Fleischer warned reporters against concluding at this point that the accident was caused by budget deficiencies.

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