NASA remembers 'Columbia seven'
HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- Thousands of people gathered Tuesday at Johnson Space Center as NASA honored the seven astronauts who died aboard the space shuttle Columbia.
President Bush said the nation shared in the families' sorrow and pride and vowed that "America's space program will go on."
"Today we remember not only one moment of tragedy, but seven lives of great purpose and achievement," Bush said.
The president praised each of the crew members by name and shared comments they had made about their excitement for the trip -- and about the unlikely possibility that something could happen to them.
"Each of them knew that great endeavors are inseparable from great risks, accepted willingly even joyfully in the cause of discovery," Bush said. (Speech transcript)
First lady Laura Bush could be seen wiping away tears as she sat with the families of the Columbia astronauts -- commander Rick Husband; pilot William McCool; payload commander Michael Anderson; mission specialists David Brown, Laurel Clark and Kalpana Chawla; and Israel's first astronaut, payload specialist Ilan Ramon.
The service began with a prayer, in English and Hebrew by Capt. Harold Robinson, a Navy rabbi, and a solemn rendition of "God of Our Fathers" by the U.S. Navy Band chorus.
"When we view our little planet from out in space, we learn unity of all humanity here on Earth," Robinson said. "We are one as you are one."
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe told the crowd the agency must "honor the legacy of these fallen heroes" by determining what caused the disaster.
"Throughout our proud NASA family, the bond between those who venture into space -- the astronaut corps -- and those who make space flight possible, this bond is incredibly strong and today our grief is overwhelming," O'Keefe said.
O'Keefe was followed by U.S. Navy Capt. Kent V. Rominger, chief of the Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center.
"Rick, Willie, Mike, K.C., Laurel, Dave and Ilan, I know you are listening," Rominger said. "Please know you are in our hearts and we will always smile when we think of you."
The service ended with the ringing of a ship's bell seven times and a flyover of planes piloted by four astronauts in the missing man formation.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry attended along with a congressional delegation led by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee.
John Glenn, the former senator and astronaut, and Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to walk on the moon, also attended the service.
The Senate on Monday passed a resolution commemorating "with deep sorrow and regret the fate of the Columbia space shuttle mission."
Each of the chamber's 100 senators co-sponsored the resolution, including Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, who was a shuttle crew member in 1986 while a member of the House. (Full story)
In a statement Monday, the astronauts' families thanked NASA for its support while telling the agency "the bold exploration of space must go on." (Full story)