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Congress Honors <i>Columbia</i> Astronauts - 2003-02-03

The Senate has passed a resolution honoring the astronauts of the ill-fated space shuttle Columbia. Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee offered praise for Columbia's crew, saying "each Columbia crewmember was a pioneer. They would want us to recognize that their sacrifices through our comments and through our review of their lives, and through our comforting of their families. But I also know they would also want us to determine the cause, to fix that cause, and to move on in that same spirit of exploration."

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota expressed similar sentiments.

"As we contemplate this loss, we celebrate their lives, their accomplishments, we celebrate the fact they gave all they could for their country." Mr. Daschle said. "At a time like this, the word 'hero' is appropriate, and indeed they were just that."

The Senate postponed legislative business until Wednesday to allow members to attend a memorial service Tuesday at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are reviewing President George W. Bush's budget request for the space agency NASA, which has seen a decrease in funding during the past decade. The Columbia disaster has spurred calls for increased funding to upgrade the aging shuttle fleet.

Mr. Bush's budget blueprint for 2004, which Congress has received, calls for a three percent increase in NASA's funding to nearly $15.5 billion dollars.

In a related matter, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, told Fox News Sunday that Congress would hold hearings to assess the shuttle program. But she said this would not be the time to cut NASA's budget.