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EXPLORATIONS- February 12, 2003: Columbia Accident - 2003-02-11


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VOICE ONE:

This is Steve Ember.

VOICE TWO:

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.

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VOICE ONE:

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.

VOICE TWO:

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.

VOICE ONE:

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 with Columbia.

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 the sky.

VOICE TWO:

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 and Louisiana.

VOICE ONE:

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 Columbia’s wing.

VOICE TWO:

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 the atmosphere.

VOICE ONE:

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.

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VOICE TWO:

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.

VOICE ONE:

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.

VOICE TWO:

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.

VOICE ONE:

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.

VOICE TWO:

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.

VOICE ONE:

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.

VOICE TWO:

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.

VOICE ONE:

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, Texas.

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VOICE TWO:

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 come back?”

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.”

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VOICE ONE:

This program was written and produced by Paul Thompson. I’m Steve Ember.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS, a program in Special English on the Voice of America.

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