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Asian Nations Offer Condolences Over Shuttle Tragedy - 2003-02-02

Asian nations are offering their condolences to the United States for the seven crewmembers lost aboard space shuttle Columbia.

China, in expressing its "deep condolences," says it hopes the tragedy will not reduce mankind's desire to explore space. China intends this year to become the third nation to send its own astronauts into space.

According to the Xinhua news agency, Chinese President Jiang Zemin sent messages to U.S. President Bush and Israeli President Moshe Katsav, expressing deep regrets. Six Americans and one Israeli were aboard Columbia.

Taiwan, which has no formal diplomatic ties with the United States, was conveying messages from its leadership via its representative office in Washington. A foreign ministry spokeswoman quoted President Chen Shui-bian as expressing shock and deep sympathy.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, in messages to the White House, said they were praying for the souls of the astronauts.

Japan has been an active supporter of international space efforts with the United States. Four Japanese astronauts have flown aboard shuttle missions, and a fifth was to go into space aboard the next U.S. shuttle launch, which has been postponed indefinitely.

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard said he believed that the tragedy would not undo America's commitment to space exploration and its possibilities for all humanity.

Scientific experiments from Japan and Australia were conducted on what turned out to be Columbia's final mission.

Besides the United States and Israel, the other nation perhaps most deeply affected by the deaths of all onboard Columbia is India. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, says the tragedy has a special poignancy for his nation as astronaut Kalpana Chawla was born in India. Dr. Chawla, a 42-year-old U.S. citizen and a celebrity in her native country, was the most experienced among the shuttle crew, having logged 376 hours in space.