- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 8, 2003

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) Thousands of workers who launched Columbia into orbit gathered for a memorial yesterday at the landing strip where the space shuttle was supposed to return home.
"She carried as wonderful a group of human beings as you could ever hope to assemble." NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe told a crowd of about 7,000. "We miss them more than words can describe."
The ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center was held in the same area where the astronauts' families had gathered before the shuttle's scheduled landing time last Saturday. Sixteen minutes before it was to land, Columbia broke up.
"On Saturday, when our worst fears were realized, the people of this center were focused, organized and deliberate," Mr. O'Keefe said. "The teamwork that was displayed was simply magnificent."
The ceremony began with musical tributes to the seven crew members. An audio recording replayed the shuttle countdown and then President Bush announcing to the nation, "The Columbia is lost."
Dark clouds loomed over much of the Kennedy Space Center during most of the 90-minute service. But as it ended with an aerial missing-man formation, the T-38 jet that broke away found one of the few holes in the clouds and flew out of sight.
"Let us share the hope that when we look to the stars, we will see in them a reminder of the heroes who dared to travel among them," Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said during the ceremony.
Robert L. Crippen, the pilot on Columbia's debut trip in 1981, reminisced about how a colleague called the shuttle "the world's greatest electric flying machine."
"Columbia was hardly a thing of beauty except for those of us who loved and cared for her," Mr. Crippen said. "She was often bad-mouthed for being a little heavy in the rear end, but many of us can relate to that … She was our leader."
Rabbi Zvi Konikov recounted how Israeli astronaut Col. Ilan Ramon had asked him how he should observe the Jewish Sabbath in space when there is a sunset every 1 hours, and by that measure, a Sabbath every 10 hours.
"Jerusalem, we have a problem," Rabbi Konikov said.
Col. Ramon decided to observe the Sabbath according to Earth's time.
Richard Khoury, a NASA transportation worker, said the service would allow workers to grieve publicly. "This is good because it's hands-on. It lets us feel like we're part of it," said Mr. Khoury, who has worked at the center for 19 years.
Other services have been held in Houston and Washington to remember Cmdr. Rick D. Husband, payload Cmdr. Michael P. Anderson, Capt. David M. Brown, Cmdr. William C. McCool, mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, Cmdr. Laurel B. Clark and Col. Ramon.
Many of the Kennedy Space Center workers were involved intimately in launching Columbia and got to know the seven crew members.
After the service, Jim Ossandon, a contracting officer at neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, stared at the runway and took a photo.
"This gives closure to the people," Mr. Ossandon said. "So they can move on."

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