Space Workers Remember Shuttle Victims

Johnson Space Center workers on Friday bowed their heads in silence and wiped away tears during a tribute to the seven astronauts who died during the space shuttle Columbia's final mission last year.

They also vowed to honor their fallen colleagues by renewing their commitment to space exploration.

“This is exactly what this crew would have wanted us to do,” center director Jefferson Davis Howell Jr. told about 1,000 workers who gathered under cloudy skies. “Wouldn't they be upset with us if we quit? Wouldn't it be an insult to them if we gave up?”

A chunk of foam the size of a suitcase tore a hole in Columbia's left wing 82 seconds after liftoff. The gap let in the searing gases of re-entry two weeks later as the orbiter returned home. The spaceship broke apart over Texas on February 1, 2003, killing all aboard.

Workers at the center, where Mission Control is located, should use the crew's example of “incredible courage, teamwork, total integrity, professional excellence, commitment to their purpose,” Howell said.

“Crew of Columbia, you will never be forgotten,” he said. “Crew of Columbia, we honor you with our actions and our success.”

As workers bowed their heads during a moment of silence, recording of bells and the astronaut's names were played: “Rick Husband … William McCool … Kalpana Chawla … David Brown … Michael Anderson … Laurel Clark … Ilan Ramon.”

A year later, pieces of the doomed craft continue to show up in East Texas, where most of the debris fell from the sky, NASA officials in Florida told reporters who viewed the spacecraft's final resting place Friday.

The debris is stored in a 7,000-square-foot room with scuffed linoleum floors and fluorescent lighting. Most of the pieces are in large cardboard boxes in the back of the room. Pieces from the crew's cabin are stored in a separate area. The largest pieces, and ones that helped investigators determine what happened to Columbia, are up front.

On Thursday, NASA employees throughout the country paused to remember the 17 astronauts who died in three separate tragedies over the years.

The Apollo 1 spacecraft fire on the launch pad killed three on January 27, 1967. The Challenger launch explosion killed seven on January 28, 1986. The Columbia disintegration happened February 1, 2003.

On Sunday, the anniversary of the Columbia disaster, a ceremony at Florida's Cape Canaveral will honor all astronauts whose lives have been lost in the line of duty. On Monday, NASA chief Sean O'Keefe will dedicate a Columbia memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

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