This is Steve Ember.
And this is Mary Tillotson with the VOA Special English program
EXPLORATIONS. Seven astronauts and the Space Shuttle Columbia
were lost in an accident February first. Today, we tell about
the accident and the investigation that is trying to discover
the cause. We also tell about the astronauts who were killed.
Saturday morning, February first, was an exciting day at the
Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA officials, workers and
family members of the seven astronauts on the Space Shuttle
Columbia were waiting to see the space vehicle land. The crew
members had performed a successful sixteen-day science flight.
They worked on their science experiments twenty-four hours a
day while they were in orbit.
In addition to Americans, people in two other countries followed
the flight with special interest. The people of India were proudly
watching this shuttle flight because Indian-born Kalpana Chawla
was a member of the crew.
The people of Israel watched their televisions for news about
Ilan Ramon, the first person from Israel to fly into space.
At eight-fifteen in the morning, the Space Shuttle Columbia
and its crew began flying down into Earth¡¯s atmosphere.
Forty-five minutes later, NASA lost all information and communication
The shuttle was flying six times faster then the speed of sound
and sixty-two kilometers above the Earth. People in three states
reported hearing an extremely loud noise and seeing fire in
A television cameraman in the state of Texas was waiting for
the Columbia to pass over his area. He pointed his camera at
the area of the sky were the shuttle would be seen.
The pictures he recorded showed a bright light and a long trail
of white smoke. Columbia was breaking apart. Within minutes,
NASA confirmed that something was terribly wrong. Within an
hour, it announced the Columbia and its crew had been lost.
Thousands of pieces of the shuttle were reported to have fallen
in a huge area including parts of California, Arizona, Texas
Officials quickly began an investigation to find the cause
of this terrible accident. NASA officials agreed that it might
take several months of study before a final answer would be
known. Some NASA experts first believed that the accident was
linked to a problem during launch.
They had seen material fall between the shuttle¡¯s
huge temporary rocket and Columbia. The material hit part of
Scientists had studied pictures a day after the launch and
had decided that the damage was not severe and Columbia was
not in danger. Information from early investigations into the
Columbia accident said the damage caused by the material during
launch might have been much greater than was first believed.
The material may have damaged the heat resistant tiles that
protect the shuttle.
The bottom areas of all of the shuttle spacecraft are covered
with special tile material that can protect against extremely
high temperatures. The tiles protect against the intense heat
caused by the shuttle¡¯s great speed when it re-enters
By the end of last week, NASA official Ron Dittemore said repeated
investigations and tests showed that the material could not
have done enough damage to cause the shuttle to fail. He said
NASA researchers believe something else caused the accident.
Mister Dittemore said the investigation would continue until
the cause of the accident is found and corrected.
Last Friday, NASA reported that a large piece of the shuttle¡¯s
wing had been found. Officials said they hoped this part of
the wing would provide the evidence that would tell them what
caused the accident.
Last Tuesday, special aircraft flew the body remains of the
seven astronauts to the United States Air Force Base in Dover,
Delaware. Experts used scientific methods to identify the bodies
and prepare them for return to their families.
The seven astronauts were Shuttle Commander Rick Husband, Pilot
Willie McCool, Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon and Mission Specialists
Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark.
We would like to tell you a little about these brave astronauts.
Ilan Ramon was the first Israeli to fly into space. For many
weeks before the flight, newspapers, magazines and television
broadcasts in Israel reported about him. School children brought
in news stories to share with their class. Families gathered
around the television to watch the latest report about Israel¡¯s
first astronaut. Ilan Ramon was a national hero. He was a colonel
in the Israeli air force with more than four-thousand hours
flying military aircraft. He was selected as an astronaut as
a result of a science agreement between the United States and
Israel in nineteen-ninety-five.
Shuttle Pilot William McCool was called Willie by his friends.
He was an honor graduate of the United States Naval Academy
and a navy test pilot. His friends said Willie was born to fly.
His father was a pilot. By the time the Columbia launched, he
had flown more than twenty-four different kinds of aircraft
and had almost three-thousand hours of flight time. The flight
of Columbia was his first flight in space.
Shuttle Commander Rick Husband had always wanted to be an astronaut.
As a young child, he never missed watching the launch of the
early American efforts to enter space. Mister Husband was an
experienced pilot and astronaut. He had a total of two-hundred-thirty-five
hours in space and almost four-thousand flying hours as a pilot
and test pilot. He was the former head of safety for NASA¡¯s
astronaut office. His friends say he worked many long, hard
hours to prepare for the shuttle flight.
Kalpana Chawla did not really look like an astronaut. She was
a very small woman. But what she lacked in physical size she
made up for in hard work and great strength. NASA selected her
and nineteen other people from a group of four-thousand people
who wanted to fly in space. Mizz Chawla was born in Karnal,
India, north of New Delhi. She had always wanted to fly from
the time she was a child. She became a pilot, an aerospace engineer
and a valued member of NASA¡¯s astronaut team.
The flight of Columbia was her second shuttle flight. She became
the first Indian-born woman in space in nineteen-ninety seven.
African-American pilot Michael Anderson had always wanted to
be an astronaut. As a child he knew the names of every American
astronaut. He watched the first astronauts land on the moon
and never forgot the excitement he felt. He became a military
pilot in the Air Force and then asked to fly with NASA. He flew
on the shuttle flight to the Mir space station in nineteen-ninety-eight.
Laurel Salton Clark was a medical doctor, a navy officer, a
deep-sea diver and a parachutist. She worked as a doctor on
submarines and military planes. Then she became an astronaut.
Her brother said Doctor Clark saw only goals. And she was willing
to do the hard work to reach those goals.
David Brown was also a medical doctor, a pilot and a navy officer.
As a young man he spent a year working as a circus performer.
He applied three times to NASA before he was accepted as an
astronaut. He also loved space. He would often fly his own aircraft
to attend a meeting of a space club in the city of Houston,
Humans have always explored. First they explored the land masses
of our planet, then the oceans. In the past forty years people
have traveled into space. The men and women who do this are
the explorers of our time. They will be the ones who will answer
the questions about our universe and beyond.
All of the shuttle astronauts loved to fly in space. While
he was in orbit around the Earth, David Brown joked with friends
at mission control. He asked, ¡°Do I really have to
President Bush spoke at a memorial service last week for the
seven shuttle astronauts. He said each of the seven knew that
taking risks is necessary to complete great goals. He said ¡°And
each of them accepted those risks willingly, even joyfully,
in the cause of discovery.¡±
This program was written and produced by Paul Thompson. I¡¯m
And I¡¯m Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week
for EXPLORATIONS, a program in Special English on the Voice
This V-O-A Explorations Report is published
courtesy of VOAnews.com