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Memorial Ceremony Honors Shuttle Crew Members - 2003-02-05

On Wednesday America’s space agency NASA held a memorial service for the astronauts who died, when their space shuttle disintegrated upon entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. With more on the ceremony and the investigation into the tragedy, here’s Betty Van Etten.

“Their mission was almost finished and we lost them so close to home. The men and women of Columbia had journeyed more than six-million miles and were minutes away from arrival and reunion.”

U.S. President George Bush remembering the crew of the U.S. space shuttle “Columbia” at the memorial service at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Thousands of people attended the outdoor ceremony honoring the seven crew members who died last Saturday when shuttle “Columbia” fell apart as it returned to Earth. President Bush praised every member of the crew and offered words of comfort to the families.

“For these seven, it was a dream fulfilled. Each of these astronauts had the daring and discipline required of their calling. Each of them knew that great endeavors are inseparable form great risks. And each of them accepted those risks willingly.”

The President said, despite the tragedy, the U.S. space program will continue. Meanwhile, NASA officials continue their investigation into what caused the shuttle to disintegrate.

It is known that during Columbia’s take-off foam insulation broke off the external fuel tank, and may have damaged heat-absorbing tiles on its left side. That’s where the shuttle started getting too hot upon entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

NASA is now investigating, but not excluding other possible causes. Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore.

“There's some other missing link that we don’t have yet, that is contributing to this temperature increase and, we've got to go find that.”

Volunteers on the ground are doing their best to find anything that will help. Federal officials have collected thousands of pieces of debris and located human remains of the astronauts.

As the search goes on, the nation grieves, for seven brave souls who reached out to the stars. Seven, who perished, coming home.