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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Columbia: The Shuttle Tragedy: Discussion with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison

Aired February 4, 2003 - 12:23   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: With me is Texas United States Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who of course has been a part of the state and the celebration program, as well as now one of its moments a great tragedy, Senator Hutchison, you were just telling me, as a former news reporter, you covered the Apollo program back in the 1960s and '70s.
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: Yes, I did. I grew up with NASA. I grew up in Galveston Country, very near here, watched NASA grow up, became a news reporter in Houston, Texas, and covered the Apollo flights, including Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon, so this is a very much a part of my life, as it is so many Texans.

WOODRUFF: Tell us, for those of us who are not from Texas and not from the Houston area, what this means to the people who live here, who live with the space program day in and day out.

HUTCHISON: Of course, the people at NASA are so dedicated. They are the best and brightest scientists of our times. They reach out to young people because they want them to love science, too, and we want the budding astronauts and scientists of the future to love the idea of space exploration. It's like a NASA family, as you have heard over the last few days.

Of course, this year, this horrible tragedy affected Dallas and other parts of Texas as well, because we heard the shaking. We heard the windows on houses. They thought it was an earthquake in many places, and then throughout east Texas, where they are really deputized and feel that responsibility to find the clue that will help us solve this terrible mystery.

WOODRUFF: Senator, you talked yesterday to the mayor of Nacogdoches. Are they able to get the work done, of retrieving all of the debris, retrieving all of the human remains that may be out there?

HUTCHISON: They are doing such an incredible job. So many people are volunteering to help. People who own land are going out and looking for things, and then marking them to try to save it for the people who would come and determine if it were something that they needed to have.

The mayor was very tired, but very proud of his city. And I think for a very tiny town of 35,000 people, they've done an incredible job, just as they have over in Hemphill, where they have found so many of the remains of the astronauts, and have tried to give them dignity, putting a cross in the ground to mark the place where that body was found, or that part was found. I just think that it's bringing out the very best of America.

WOODRUFF: Senator, is it fair to say that the entire shuttle program is now in some jeopardy as a result of this accident?

HUTCHISON: Not at all. I think we are going to obviously want to know exactly what caused to this, and we are going to want to fix it. But I think this renews a commitment to NASA. We realize what NASA has done for us, making us preeminent in the world in national defense through satellite technology, preeminent in the world in medical research, MRIs and CAT scans that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. I think that's all coming home to America right now, and we are seeing these astronauts as pioneers, helping us make life better on earth, and keeping our superiority in national defense.

WOODRUFF: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is here at Houston at the Johnson Space Center for the memorial service that will get under way in a little more than a half hour from now.

Senator, thank you very much.

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