Feb. 4th, 2003: At the dawn of the space age some 40 years ago, we always
knew who was orbiting Earth or flying to the Moon. Neil Armstrong, Yuri
Gagarin, John Glenn. They were household names--everywhere.

    Lately it's different. Space flight has become more "routine." Another
flight of the shuttle. Another visit to the space station. Who's onboard
this time? Unless you're a NASA employee or a serious space enthusiast,
you might not know.
Dave Brown, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, William McCool, and Ilan Ramon

    Now we know. Those are the names of the seven astronauts who were
tragically lost on Saturday, Feb. 1st, when the space shuttle Columbia
(STS-107) broke apart over Texas.

    Before the accident, perhaps, they were strangers to you. But if that's
so, why did you have a knot in your gut when you heard the news? What were
those tears all about? Why do you feel so deep-down sad for seven
strangers?

    Astronauts have an unaccountable hold on us. They are explorers. Curious,
humorous, serious, daring, careful. Where they go, they go in peace. Every
kid wants to be one. Astronauts are the essence of humanity.

    They are not strangers. They are us. While still in orbit Dave Brown asked, jokingly, "do we really have to come back?" No. But we wish you had.

    The NASA Science team, all of NASA and the world, extends heartfelt sympathies to the family, friends and colleagues of the STS-107 crew.

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