- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) — Vice President Dick Cheney Thursday honored the memory of the seven crew members of the space shuttle Columbia during a solemn ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral calling them "lost explorers" to whom he wanted to offer the respects of a grateful nation.

"The Columbia is lost, but the dreams that inspired its crew remain with us," Cheney said.

Hundreds of mourners from official Washington and the general public sat with the crew's families in the massive sanctuary and listened as the members of the STS-107 were remembered for their personal impact and professional contributions to space exploration.

Cheney said Saturday morning brought terrible news for all Americans. He described the STS-107 crew explorers who each followed his or her own path to the space program as leading a life of "high purpose and high achievement."

"The crew of the Columbia was united not by faith or heritage, but by the calling they answered and shared: They were bound together in the great cause of discovery. They were envoys to the unknown. They advanced human understanding by showing human courage," Cheney said.

Mission Control in Houston lost contact with the shuttle at 9 a.m. EST Saturday as it traveled over eastern Texas. A frantic investigation was launched to find out what happened to the shuttle and its crew.

Killed in the disaster were shuttle commander Rick D. Husband, pilot William C. McCool, payload specialists Michael P. Anderson and Ilan Ramon, of Israel, and mission specialists Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown and Laurel P. Clark. Ramon was Israel's first astronaut.

"May a merciful God receive these seven souls," Cheney prayed. "May he comfort their families, may he help our nation bear this heavy loss and may he guide us forward in exploring his creation."

Cheney acknowledged Chawla's and Ramon's presence on the shuttle and Israel's participation in the U.S. space program saying America was "a nation of pioneers and immigrants" that has invited "kindred souls from many nations to join us in the greatest of all voyages."

Chawla, who was originally from India, was a naturalized U.S. citizen.

"In doing so, we honor the heritage of our country and help shape the future of all mankind," he said.

Cheney and his wife, Lynne, sat in a front pew beside NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and his wife. Also attending were lawmakers from Capitol Hill including former Democratic Sen. John Glenn, the first man to orbit the earth and the oldest person to return to space 36 years later.

"Because of the memory of the gallant 107 crew has done so much to inspire our youth, our shining hope for the future, to carry forth the torch of exploration and discovery, we are forever grateful to the Columbia astronauts," O'Keefe said.

The somber memorial service was officiated by the Rev. Nathan D. Baker, dean of the Washington National Cathedral; Rabbi Warren G. Stone, president of the Washington Board of Rabbis; Rev. John Bryson Chane, bishop of Washington; Rev. Stephen McWhorter, of St. David's Episcopal Church in Ashburn, Va.; and Brig. Gen. Charles C. Baldwin, deputy chief of chaplains of the U.S. Air Force, also participated.

Singer Patti La Belle sang a passionate rendition of "Way Up There," a song she recorded for NASA, and Retired Col. Robert D. Cabana, a NASA astronaut, offered his personal memories of the shuttle crew.

The cathedral located on the west end of the nation's capital has a stained glass window that commemorates America's exploration of space and man's first steps on the moon. In the upper center of the window is a 7.18-gram piece of basalt lunar rock from the moon's Sea of Tranquility. It was donated by the crew of Apollo 11, which landed there in 1969. The "Space Window" is located on the south side of the Cathedral just west of the tomb of Woodrow Wilson.

Cheney said in his brief remarks the Columbia crew was driven by a fierce determination to improve life on earth by unlocking the mysteries of Space.

"Every great act of exploration involves great risk. The crew of the Columbia accepted that risk," Cheney said.

The families of the crew members, NASA officials and the White House have said the space shuttle program would continue even as the investigation into what caused the tragedy is under way.

"To honor the legacy of the Columbia astronauts, we have made a solemn commitment to their families to find the cause of the accident, correct whatever problems we may find and move on safely with our work," O'Keefe said.

Cheney said that while many memorials will rise to commemorate the crew, the greatest memorial would be a vibrant space program with new missions carried out by a new generation.

"The legacy of Columbia must carry on, they tell us, for the benefit of our children and yours," he said. "Those dreams are carried by the dedicated men and women of NASA, who time and time again have achieved the seemingly impossible, and whose strength and skill will return us to space."

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