Ohio leaders express sorrow over Columbia shuttle disaster

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 2, 2003

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and Sen. George Voinovich Saturday expressed their sorrow upon hearing of the space shuttle Columbia Disaster.

"On behalf of the people of Ohio, I express our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families and friends of the seven astronauts that fell with the space shuttle Columbia," Taft said. "Astronauts have long been risking their lives in the name of advancing science to help humankind, and this tragedy affects us all. We thank them for their courage, and we mourn their loss."

Voinovich said in his statement that the tragedy reminds us of how fragile life is and how much we have have come to take for granted the dangers of going into space.

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"Janet and I pray for the families, in their indescribable pain and grief, that God will comfort them," Voinovich said.

Former astronaut John Glenn and his wife had just turned on their television to watch the space shuttle Columbia return home Saturday when communications with the craft were lost as it soared across Texas.

''We were going to be watching the landing and then it got into trouble,'' said Glenn, who represented Ohio in the Senate for 24 years,

from his home in Bethesda, Md.

''Anytime you lose contact like that, there's some big problem. Of course, once you went for several minutes without any contact, you knew something was terribly wrong.'' Glenn, who orbited Earth on Feb. 20, 1962, returned to space on the shuttle Discovery in 1998 at age 77.

Former astronaut Kathy Sullivan said that despite the intense heat from re-entry, the shuttle is usually calm before landing.

''The vehicle is steady and smooth with just mainly the light show outside the window and the instrumentation reminding you of the physics at work,'' said Sullivan, the president of the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus.

Sullivan, a mission specialist on shuttle flights in 1984, '90 and '92, was about to board a plane for Columbus when she saw news of the disaster on a television at the airport in Portland, Ore.

''We understand the combination of risk and reward and caution, concern and exhilaration that any flight represents,'' she said. ''You prepare for the hazards as best you can and focus on the mission.''

Sen. Mike DeWine, who helps decide on NASA's funding as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it was too soon to determine what role the Columbia disaster would have on the space agency's budget.

''There has never been enough money to do all the things we want to do in space,'' said DeWine, R-Ohio. ''But that was true before this disaster and will be true after this disaster.