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Discovery, Space Station Crews Pay Tribute to Columbia

HOUSTON--Ina brief service, the nine astronauts aboard the shuttle Discovery andInternational Space Station (ISS) remembered the NASA's lost Columbia crew andall other astronauts and cosmonauts who have given their lives in the pursuitof spaceflight.

"We wouldlike to share with you a tribute to fallen astronauts and cosmonauts," saidEileen Collins, commander of Discovery's STS-114 flight, during the audiomessage.

Space is anunforgiving environment where mistakes are not treated lightly, the astronautssaid. The loss ofColumbia's seven STS-107 astronauts during reentry on Feb. 1, 2003 drove home amessage that had been learned repeatedly by Russian and U.S. spaceagencies in other accidents over the last 30 years. Discovery's STS-114 missionis NASA's first shuttle flight since that fatal accident.

"Tragically,two years we came once more to realize that we had let our guard down," STS-114mission specialist Charles Camarda said during the service."We became lost in our own hubris, and learned once more the terrible pricethat must be paid for our failures."

Columbia's STS-107 flight, commanded by Rick Husband with WillieMcCool as pilot, was cut short 16 minutes before the shuttle was expected toland at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida.Mission specialists Michael Anderson, Dave Brown, KalpanaChawla, Laurel Clark and IlanRamon--Israel'sfirst astronaut--also served during the ill-fated mission.

"We arereminded that it is upon the completion of the journey, and the arrival at theplace from whence we came, that we can say that we know ourselves," STS-114pilot James Kelly, adding that Columbia's crew, as well as the astronauts lostin NASA's Challenger and Apollo 1 accidents, and Russia's Soyuz 1 and Soyuz 11tragedies, did not have the chance for that homecoming.

Columbia was struck down by a 1.67-poundchunk of foam that fell from its external tank at launch and pierced the heatshield panels along its left wing. As the orbiter reentered the Earth'satmosphere, hot gases entered the damaged area, destroying the orbiter andkilling its crew.

NASA workedfor two years to prevent such foam loss from endangering its shuttles again,but found a similar problem during Discovery's July 26 launch when a 0.9-poundpiece fell from its external tank. That foam did not strike the orbiter, thoughshuttle officials pledged not to launch another orbiter until it is addressed.Engineers are also examining a damaged thermalblanket on Discovery's hull to determine whether pieces could rip offduring reentry and potentially damage the shuttle. Shuttle officials are unsurewhether the blanket can be left as is or will require any action, such as anunplanned, fourth spacewalk, to repair it.

"Spaceexploration is not easy, and there has been a human price that has been paid,"said STS-114 mission specialist Wendy Lawrence.  "As we step out intothese new frontiers we find that it is very unforgiving to our mistakes."

Earliertoday, Kelly, Lawrence and Camarda tested the thirdheat shield repair method of their flight--a plug for holes in reinforced carboncarbon (RCC) panels--inside Discovery to check itsperformance in the absence of gravity. The carbon silicon carbide patch can beaffixed over small holes in RCC panels, and carefully screwed down until it isflush with the panel surface. Discovery spacewalkers tested two other repairmethods for the shuttle's protective tile and RCC panel heat shield duringtheir first spacewalk.

ISSExpedition 11 flight engineer John Phillips thanked the lost astronauts fortheir dedication and courage, adding that they will be deeply missed, whileSTS-114 mission specialist Andrew Thomas reflected on their sacrifice. ISSExpedition commander Sergei Krikalevoffered a statement in Russian, while Discovery astronaut SoichiNoguchi, of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), did the same in Japanese.

NASA has spentmore than two years and $1.4 billion to enhance shuttle flight safety anddevelop new tools for orbiter inspection and repair. Some of those tools,including an orbital inspection boom, have already been put to practical useduring Discovery's flight during preparations for an unplanned repairto the shuttle's heat shield that sent STS-114 missionspecialist Stephen Robinson under Discovery's belly - a first for NASA - to removespace-filling strips jutting out from its tiles.

"The spiritof exploration is truly what it is to be human," said STS-114 missionspecialist Stephen Robinson. "Previous generations went first on foot and then onhorseback, and then wooden sailing vessels and today we have aircraft andspacecraft. We have shrunk the world in a way that early generations ofexplorers could never have imagined."

"For thosewho venture into the sky...there is a revelation of things never dreamed, suchare the ways of explorers and the surpassing ways of the sky," Collins said."We will remember them."

Discovery'screw is taking advantage of some off-duty time after completing nearly all ofits cargo transfer activities between the ISS and shuttle. They are scheduledto land at KSC on Aug. 8.

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