Saturday, February 1, 2003. America had been watching the space shuttle Columbia, concerned for the safey of the crew upon reentry after learning heat shields had been lost during takeoff two weeks earlier.
On that cold morning in the Shenandoah Valley, many of us were preparing to meet in downtown Staunton for a Support the Troops rally, carrying our signs and American flags to show support for our military men and women fighting terrorism around the world and on the homeland.
Hearing the sad news that Columbia had been lost, we added one more sign: "Our prayers are with the Columbia families."
President George W. Bush addressed the nation after the tragedy:
This day has brought terrible news and great sadness to our country. At 9 o'clock this morning, Mission Control in Houston lost contact with our space shuttle Columbia. A short time later, debris was seen falling from the skies above Texas. The Columbia is lost. There are no survivors.America's space program took a hiatus but came back to continue leading the world in space travel.
On board was a crew of seven: Col. Rick Husband; Lt. Col. Michael Anderson; Cmdr. Laurel Clark; Capt. David Brown; Cmdr. William McCool; Dr. Kalpana Chawla; and Ilan Ramon, a colonel in the Israeli Air Force.
These men and women assumed great risk in the service to all humanity.
In an age when space flight has come to seem almost routine, it is easy to overlook the dangers of travel by rocket and the difficulties of navigating the fierce outer atmosphere of the Earth. These astronauts knew the dangers, and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life.