President Bush says America is determined to carry on the space exploration that was so important to the crew of the space shuttle Columbia. Mr. Bush says the seven astronauts were on a scientific mission intended to benefit all mankind.
The president says the members of the shuttle crew lost their lives in the name of scientific discovery. "The seven brave men and women from the Columbia will be remembered for their achievements, their heroism and their sense of wonder," he said.
Mr. Bush said their mission had all the promise of answering scientific problems that "elude us here on earth." He vows, despite the loss, America will move ahead to explore the new frontiers of space.
"And while we grieve the loss of these astronauts, the cause for which they died will continue. America's journey into space will go on," he said.
The president spoke to an audience at the National Institutes of Health, the government's main medical research facility. He said the spirit of modern science embodied in the space program can also be found at NIH.
He urged the agency to keep up its efforts to find cures for dangerous diseases and ease human suffering. But he added, the nation's medical researchers have an added responsibility in the days following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
"Now, our scientists have been called to face a different kind of challenge: Man's efforts to use diseases as weapons of war and terror. This threat has placed research scientists at the center of our mission to defend the American people," he said.
The president appealed to Congress to approve his request for $6 billion over 10 years to develop and stockpile improved vaccines or drugs for smallpox, anthrax and botulism toxin.
"We will have a better and safer smallpox vaccine, antibodies to treat botox, sophisticated devices that can confirm a case of anthrax infection almost instantly," he said.
The president unveiled his plan, formally known as Project Bio-Shield, last week in his State of the Union address. The trip to the National Institutes of Health, originally scheduled to promote the proposal, took on a new meaning after the shuttle disaster.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush met in private with the administrator of the national space agency, Sean O'Keefe. White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters, the president got an update on the investigation, and stressed his pride in the people of NASA. On Tuesday, Mr. Bush will travel to Houston, Texas, to attend a memorial service for the shuttle crew at the Johnson Space Center.