February 03, 2003 11:19 AM

As the nation deals with another tragedy and mourns the seven space heroes who perished Saturday in the space shuttle Columbia, NASA engineers continue to look for answers as to how the calamity occurred.

According to reports on Monday morning, conditions in the shuttle’s final minutes point to a possible problem with its critical heat-protection tiles.

President Bush, meanwhile, juggled his Monday schedule to make time for a meeting with NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe and to fly to a memorial service in Houston scheduled for Tuesday. Laura Bush also will attend the service.

“The president views this as a tragedy that has touched the lives of the American people, and as a reminder of the risks of space flight,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

In addressing the nation on Saturday, Bush said: “The Columbia is lost. The same creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth, but we can pray they are safely home.”

The President also telephoned the families of the crew members — Commander Rick Husband, pilot William McCool, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, Ilan Ramon, Michael Anderson and David Brown — who were waiting in Florida at the landing site to meet the astronauts.

On Sunday, Bush attended a service at St. John’s Church near the White House, and bowed his head as a minister prayed for the crew, while at the Johnson Space Center, Bob Cabana, NASA’s director of flight crew operations, said that remains of all seven astronauts had been found.

“We are treating those remains with the ultimate respect and care that they deserve,” Cabana said. “We’re honoring our fellow crew mates, and we’re taking care of them.”

On Saturday, the president emphasized, “Our journey into space will go on.”

You May Like