CCNet 9/2003 -  3 February 2003

"The cause in which they died will continue. Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on. In the skies today we saw destruction and tragedy. Yet farther than we can see, there's comfort and hope. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, "Lift your eyes and look to the heavens who created all these. He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them, each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing." The same creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to earth, yet we can pray that all are safely home."
        --President George W Bush, 1 February 2003

    The Jerusalem Post, 3 February 2003

    The Observer, 2 February 2003

    The New York Times, 3 February 2033

    The Washington Times, 3 February 2003




From The Jerusalem Post, 3 February 2003


Being the son of an Auschwitz survivor was a defining part of astronaut Ilan Ramon's identity and the reason he choose to take with him to space something from that period, according to Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate.

"He approached us, because it was so central to his identity, not only the remembrance, but a very central part of his being, as a human being, as an Israeli," Shalev said.

"He was born here, he was a pilot, and the image of the mighty Israeli the sabra was part of him. Nevertheless, another part, a very central one, was the remembrance of the Shoah, as continuity to Jewish life and continuity to his own family."

Ramon expressed that identity, Shalev said, by taking not just one symbol of that era, but three: a small pencil drawing, titled "Moon Landscape," created by a 14-year-old Jewish boy during his incarceration in the Theresienstadt ghetto; a mezuza ringed with bits of barbed wire, symbolizing the spiritual resistance within the confining perimeters of Nazi concentration camps and ghettos; and a miniature Torah scroll that, along with its owner, survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp; Shalev said the pencil drawing was not the original, contrary to various media reports.

"It was a copy we wouldn't dare send the original, because they are so rare and unique for us," he said. "Even NASA regulations forbid it. So they gave us instructions exactly how to make and prepare the replica, and we did it. We also had a photograph of [the artist] Petr Ginz, which was sent with it, and Ilan took both of them."

Ramon had spoken of Ginz's science-fiction drawing while he was training at the Houston Space Center. "I feel that my journey fulfills the dream of Petr Ginz 58 years on," Ramon said.

"A dream that is ultimate proof of the greatness of the soul of a boy imprisoned within the ghetto walls, the walls of which could not conquer his spirit. Ginz's drawings, stored at Yad Vashem, are a testimony to the triumph of the spirit."

Yehudit Shendar, Yad Vashem's senior curator, had found the drawing about four months ago while searching for something appropriate for Ramon to take with him.

"I suggested that this should be the item that Ilan take to the space shuttle," Shendar said yesterday from Boston. "I think it was quite an easy choice realizing that Ilan was going on a shuttle space flight, it was easy to connect between him and between Petr and the Jewish state.

Looking from the moon to the earth, and I found it incredible that a young boy of 14 could envision the site that Ilan himself was about to see on his trip."

Ginz was deported to Auschwitz from Theresienstadt on September 28, 1944, and was immediately gassed upon arrival at Birkenau the next day. Ramon's mother, now 75, and his grandmother were liberated from Auschwitz on January 27, 1945.

"I know my flight is very symbolic for the people of Israel, especially the survivors, the Holocaust survivors," Ramon said numerous times in the months leading up to his space mission. "Because I was born in Israel, many people will see this as a dream come true. I'm kind of the proof for my parents and their generation that whatever we've been fighting for in the last century is becoming true."

The mezuza Ramon took with him into space had a silver-and-copper Star of David ringed with bits of barbed wire, a gift from San Francisco artist Aimee Golant, whose grandparents survived the Holocaust.

While training to become an astronaut, Ramon approached the 1939 Club of Los Angeles whose members are Holocaust survivors and expressed his desire to take a mezuza into space, said Golant, whose grandparents also belong to the 1939 Club.

Ramon wanted no publicity about his special "space" mezuza, Golant said. "He told me, 'The people who need to know about it, will know.' "

The miniature sefer Torah that Ramon carried with him was lent to him by Joachim Yosef, 71, an atmospheric physicist at Tel Aviv University who oversaw an Israeli experiment aboard the shuttle, and who is a survivor of Bergen-Belsen.

Yosef was given the miniature Torah by an Amsterdam rabbi who shared his barracks in 1944. Yosef had just turned 13, and the rabbi secretly arranged a bar mitzvah ceremony at 4 a.m. in the prisoners' barracks.

"After the ceremony, he said, 'You take this, this scroll that you just read from, because I will not leave here alive. But you must promise me that if you get out, you'll tell the story,'" Yosef recalled.

The rabbi was killed two months later, and Yosef was freed from the camp in a prisoner exchange in 1945, one month before it was liberated by the Americans and British.

While at Yosef's home two years ago to discuss the space experiments, Ramon noticed the scroll and asked if he could take it, along with a journal of Yosef's, on the flight.

"He was deeply affected," Yosef said. "He almost cried. I feel now that I finally was able to fulfill my promise to Rabbi Dasberg 50 years ago."

While in space, Ramon showed the Torah to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during a televised conference.

"This represents more than anything the ability of the Jewish people to survive despite everything from horrible periods," Ramon told Sharon.

Copyright 2003, Jerusalem Post


From The Observer, 2 February 2003

By Duncan Steel

An astronaut in a returning space vehicle is riding a bomb. With a re-entry speed just below five miles per second, an inert mass like a space capsule has energy of motion seven times as high as the explosive power of the same mass of TNT. If something goes awry, a phenomenal explosion is inevitable. Unfortunately, something did go wrong with flight STS-107.

Let us leave the technical aspects aside, and consider instead the human angle. Astronauts know the risks, and face them courageously and willingly. Although the advent of space tourism may have led the public into thinking that spaceflight is now safe, in fact for the foreseeable future all spacecraft will be experimental vehicles.

The expected failure rate for shuttle missions is around one in 100, maybe more. Everyone involved knows that. Even a decade ago commentators were arguing that the International Space Station could not be built to plan unless Nasa's fleet is augmented, because it is to be anticipated that some shuttles will be lost along the way.

Despite this, there is no shortage of capable volunteers. The astronaut corps has dozens of trained members and there are crews, and multiple back-ups, ready and willing to man the next launch. The hiatus now is for one reason only: to assure the American public that everything possible is done to maximise the safety of the remaining shuttles, and the human cargo they carry.

Should our concern for their safety lead to an end of manned spaceflight? Clearly, no. Should we stop people from climbing mountains, or sailing the oceans? Should we cry a halt to motor racing? Not so long as the people involved do not recklessly endanger the lives of others.

S pace research is expensive. But it can justify the cost 1,000 times over. Much of Britain being brought to a standstill last week by a smattering of snow was shameful because, unlike a couple of decades ago, we knew precisely when and where it was coming, from our meteorological satellites. When I was a child it took four days for the film of the first Cassius Clay versus Sonny Liston title fight to arrive and be shown on British TV, whereas now we have instantaneous viewing of the Superbowl from San Diego, and the cricket from Australia - although not everyone will agree this is a good thing.

Nowadays many space activities may be carried out by robotic craft, controlled from the ground or by their on-board computers. But there is a limit to what can be done remotely, or using artificial intelligence. Space agencies try to minimise cost in every way, and anything involving manned flight implies far higher expenditure, but in the end there is no replacement for a human brain. Many probes have been sent to Mars, and this year Nasa and the European Space Agency will launch others, but these have all been robotic craft with limited capabilities. To understand Mars, and conduct a proper search for life, eventually we'll need to send a geologist with a rock hammer - plus, of course, some pretty sophisticated analysis equipment.

Moreover, if Nasa decided to abandon all manned missions, its budget would be cut. American voters like to view pictures of distant planets returned by robotic satellites, but even more they appreciate seeing astronauts in space suits bearing the Stars and Stripes.

All great human projects cost lives. Build a bridge, and workers are killed in construction accidents. The human cost of the loss of Columbia is not only the seven astronauts, but also those who will die in building its replacement, either working directly on its fabrication, or those labouring to pay the tax dollars that will fund it. It was ever thus: check out how many of Captain Cook's sailors died on his voyages, despite his success in countering scurvy.

"Do not go gentle into that good night," exhorted Dylan Thomas of us all. The courageous astronauts of STS-107 did not, and set an example to follow, in whatever walk of life. To some the inspiration will be pivotal: how many Indian schoolgirls will have their life courses changed by learning of the achievements of Kalpana Chawla?

Ultimately, like all explorers, astronauts lead their lives in a way described by Tennyson more than 160 years ago: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." We owe it to those who have died, and those who yet will perish in helping to conquer space for all mankind, not to yield in our pursuit of what lies above and beyond this island earth.

Duncan Steel is reader in space technology at the University of Salford. He has worked for both Nasa and the ESA.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited


From The New York Times, 3 February 2033


SAN FRANCISCO - In the dark before dawn Friday morning, 24 hours prior to Columbia's re-entering the earth's atmosphere, I went outside to see if I could catch sight of it. Fog hung over the bay, obscuring all but a few stars. I had almost given up when the shuttle suddenly appeared, gliding across a black lagoon of clear sky between two cloudbanks. It didn't look like much - a yellowish dot of light, wavering in the turbid air like a lantern on the stern of a receding square-rigger, bustling eastward with appointments to keep. But as I watched it vanish behind the clouds, I found myself thinking about the seven astronauts aboard.

Like many Americans, I hadn't been paying much attention to these particular astronauts. Then, on the Internet last Thursday, I happened across one of their live broadcasts from space, and wound up watching them for hours on the computer screen. They demonstrated how they ate their favorite foods in the weightless environment (carefully, to prevent crumbs floating around), wryly displayed the frozen blood samples they were bringing back for laboratory analysis on the ground, and cavorted in weightlessness as delightedly as otters on ice.

There was something touching about the modest, almost intimate scale of the science experiments they conducted in the shuttle's lofty laboratory. They ignited balls of fire in a retort to study combustion in their weightless (technically, "microgravity") environment. They carried out "spiders in space" and "ants in space" tests designed by high school students. Mission specialist Laurel Clark, of Racine, Wis., whose gentle, effervescent demeanor seemed at odds with her credentials as a Navy Seals diver and flight surgeon, reported happily that a moth she was scrutinizing "was just starting to pump its wings up."

"Life continues in lots of places," she reflected, "and life is a magical thing."

I grew fond of them. Perhaps that's what brought me out on my widow's walk Friday. On Saturday morning I was up again, hoping to see them re-entering the atmosphere. A shuttle re-entry can be an awesome sight, a stark white contrail drawn across the sky like a fragment of titanic poetry. Television pictures don't prepare you for the enormity of the spectacle, the size of the proscenium within which the drama of spaceflight is played. I'd seen two of them, and was hoping for a third - especially as I'd got to know a bit about the crew.

But the sky was covered by slate-gray clouds. I listened for the shuttle's double sonic boom but heard nothing. Back in bed I thought, they'll be home by now, and fell asleep. An hour later the phone started ringing.

Watching the shuttle go over can make you feel like a savage seeing a ship. It's not terribly far away, typically less than 200 miles high. As Isaac Asimov used to say, you could drive the family car to space in an afternoon, if the car could go straight up. Yet, it's in space. The shuttle astronauts see Earth as it is, just one small planet. They see the atmosphere for what it is, a fragile membrane no thicker, relative to the planet, than the skein of tears that a blink bestows on the eye. And they float, weightless, like fish in the sea or an embryo in the womb. They may be "coasting," like the mariners of old who cautiously kept within sight of land, but the transition they are making could prove to be as epochal as the one that transpired when life first ventured out of the oceans onto land.

Watching the shuttle's customarily perfect skywriting sprawl into deadly chaos on the TV screen, I found myself thinking about those first amphibians and of what they left behind. Up until then, nearly every form of life in this world lived and died in the weightlessness of aquatic buoyancy. (That's how astronauts practice spacewalking today, by donning their spacesuits and climbing into an enormous swimming pool.) Then a few gave up their submarine freedom to labor in the weighty world above.

In a sense, each of us humans recapitulates this ancient transition. We start life afloat, weightless, in the womb, and then are delivered into a world of heaviness and toil. Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut on Columbia, said in an interview from orbit that he liked it so much up there that he never wanted to come back. Other spacefarers have said the same thing. Possibly the appeal of weightlessness harbors a species of remembrance.

Which could explain, if dreams have explanations, a dream I had years ago. I'd applied to fly on the shuttle as part of the "Journalist in Space" program, which NASA canceled following the Challenger crash of 1986. One night I dreamed that we were completing a shuttle mission when something went wrong during re-entry. Instead of descending to Earth we skipped off the top of the atmosphere and were flung into space, never to return.

As the red clouds of dawn fell away beneath us I turned to the terrified astronaut sitting next to me and said: "It's all right. It's O.K. We're going home."

Timothy Ferris is author, most recently, of ``Seeing in the Dark: How Backyard Stargazers Are Probing Deep Space and Guarding Earth From Interplanetary Peril.''

Copyright 2003, The New York Times


From The Washington Times, 3 February 2003

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration promised yesterday to resume shuttle flights as early as June, and several key senators vowed renewed support for the nation's space program.

President Bush will propose a nearly $470 million boost in NASA's budget for fiscal 2004, an administration official said Sunday, promising investigators would look into whether past cutbacks played any part in the space shuttle Columbia disaster.

NASA also announced that it had appointed a retired admiral to lead its investigation into the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia on Saturday.

"Once we find out what that cause was, and once we correct that, we're going to fly again," NASA chief Sean O'Keefe said on ABC's "This Week" yesterday.



Melissa Motichek
Headquarters, Washington           January 29, 2003
(Phone: 202/358-1141)



An experiment aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-107) has uncovered a new phenomenon. Researchers made the discovery studying the role of aerosol particles in global climate changes.

The Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment (MEIDEX) is gathering data about aerosol plumes emitted from deserts. MEIDEX builds on previous studies that showed aerosol particles might be one of the primary agents that can offset warming.

MEIDEX is a joint project of the Israel Space Agency and NASA. Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, is a member of the STS-107 crew.

For more information, contact Melissa Motichek at: 202/359- 1141. More information about MEIDEX is available on the  Internet at:


Glenn Mahone/Bob Jacobs
Headquarters, Washington February 2, 2003
(Phone: 202/358-1898/1600)

Eileen Hawley
Johnson Space Center, Houston
(Phone: 281/483-5111)

RELEASE: 03-37


The President and Mrs. George W. Bush will join NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe Tuesday afternoon in paying tribute to the brave heroes of the Space Shuttle Columbia crew during a special memorial service at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The ceremony to honor NASA astronauts Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark, and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon is scheduled to begin at 12:45 p.m. EST in the Central Mall area behind Building One. Gates are scheduled to open at 10 a.m.

This is a private ceremony for family members, friends, and invited guests, along with NASA employees and contractors. The service will be carried live on NASA Television and available on the Internet at

Media access to the memorial service will be restricted with television and still photography access provided on a pool basis.

NASA Television is available on AMC-2, transponder 9C, C-Band, located at 85 degrees West longitude. The frequency is 3880.0 MHz. Polarization is vertical and audio is monaural at 6.8 MHz.

Additional information about the STS-107 crew and the Space Shuttle Columbia is available on the Internet at

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