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Day later, space station crew gets news

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2003

HOUSTON -- The three-man crew at the international space station was grieving but still proud to be on its mission after being told about the Columbia disaster Sunday morning by a NASA official.

Bob Cabana, director of flight crew operations, said he told the astronauts about the accident roughly 24 hours after Columbia disintegrated 39 miles over Texas.

"Mostly it was just sharing. I shared with them," Cabana said. "They're grieving up there, also. And they feel a little isolated. We're keeping them fully informed."

NASA astronauts Ken Bowersox and Don Pettit and Russian Soyuz commander Nikolai Budarin, arrived at the space station in November and are scheduled to return to Earth in March.

If the remaining shuttles stay out of service for months or even years, the ongoing construction of the space station will stall. NASA had scheduled five shuttle flights to the station this year to deliver trusses and solar panels.

Even if the U.S. shuttle fleet remains grounded, the three men can board a docked Russian escape vehicle, which is in position -- complete with customized re-entry suits for the crew -- for any emergencies. Supplies and fresh crews also can be delivered to the station by Russian Soyuz vehicles.

One such unmanned ship launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sunday. It's due to arrive Tuesday morning at the space station with fuel, equipment, food and mail for the three astronauts.

Cabana said he assured Bowersox that he would tell the crew anything learned from the Columbia investigation. "They want to get through this process. And it's harder for them being detached from it in space," Cabana said. "But all I can tell you is they're in tremendous spirits. They're proud to be where they are."

Fund to seek money for kids

A fund that raised $1.2-million to assist the children of the Challenger disaster in 1986 will launch an effort to do the same for the children of the Columbia astronauts, the board chairman said Sunday.

With nonprofit status and volunteer administrators, the Space Shuttle Children's Trust Fund was established with the support of NASA to provide for the health, education and related support of the young Challenger survivors.

With the Challenger children grown, fund board chairman Delbert D. Smith said he resisted pressure to dismantle the fund, hoping tragedy wouldn't strike again but knowing that it could.

A post office box will be established today to receive donations through Bank of America for the 12 children of the Columbia crew after an emergency meeting of the fund's board of trustees today, Smith said.

Base may get remains

DOVER, Del. -- Any remains found of the seven astronauts killed on Columbia may be transported to Dover Air Force Base, the same place the bodies of the Challenger astronauts were taken 17 years ago.

The base's Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs is the only such military facility in the continental United States.

The base's mortuary has "unique capabilities" to identify remains and examine them for potentially harmful objects -- such as sharp pieces of metal -- that could harm medical workers, said Lt. Olivia Nelson, a base spokeswoman.

"We had a directive that we were probably going to get (the remains) when things were in the planning stages," Nelson said Sunday. "Things are a little more tentative now. We're just not sure at this point."

Nelson said she didn't know where else the remains might be sent.

Forensics experts said they are confident that Columbia crew members can be genetically identified even though the space shuttle disintegrated 39 miles overhead.

"DNA analysis certainly can do it if there are any cells left," said Carrie Whitcomb, director of the National Center for Forensic Science in Orlando.

Ride: 'Program will go on'

ORLANDO -- Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, went through with a science festival at the University of Central Florida on Sunday because "at times like these, people want to get together, they want to get a chance to talk," she said.

"I think that although yesterday really was a horrible day for the space program, the space program will go on, it will continue and it will be better than it is today," Ride, who made her first flight in June 1983 on the Challenger, told 800 young girls and their parents. "We'll pick up the torch the astronauts carried and carry it forward."

A high toll for black astronauts

Their ranks never large, African American astronauts have come to more than their share of tragic ends.

The demise of payload commander Michael Anderson in the Columbia disaster marked the third death of an African American astronaut since the first black flyer was enlisted in the space program in 1967.

The last African American to die in space was Ronald McNair, who was on Challenger. Nearly 20 years before that tragedy, the first black astronaut -- Air Force test pilot Robert Lawrence -- met a fiery end when his F-104 fighter jet crashed during training in California.

Only 14 African Americans have become astronauts in NASA's 40 years of manned flight.

-- Information from Associated Press and Scripps Howard News Service was used in this report.

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