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Monday, 3 February, 2003, 04:58 GMT
Sombre mood at space gateway
Kennedy Space Centre
Floral tribute: Visitors pay their respects

America's self-styled Gateway to the Universe is a sombre place following the Columbia crash.

Named after the president who challenged US scientists to land a man on the Moon, most visitors to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida are reflecting more on the recent tragedy than on the country's many glorious achievements.

At the Astronauts' Memorial, a large wall of black tiles etched with the names of the 17 people who have lost their lives in the American space programme, a picture of the Columbia crew sits surrounded by single flowers, US flags and one lone Israeli flag.

Columbia take-off. Picture: AP
I can't help but think that those who lost their lives would want that dream to continue

Linda Knudtson
tourist
The tributes have been left by the thousands of sympathisers who have come along over the past two days.

Many queue up to sign the book of condolences, among them Ashwin Ramjee, who hails originally from India.

He says he feels sorry for all the people who died, but in particular for Indian-born Kalpana Chawla.

"It was good to see an astronaut from India get so high but it's sad she died," says Ashwin.

Peter and Pamela Smith from Bedford, England are holidaying in Florida and came along on Saturday morning to watch Columbia land.

Sitting opposite the wall in the heat, Pamela said: "It seems strange with the sun shining and you're on your holiday and something of this magnitude happens.

"You can't really take it in. You feel sad, you feel part of the community."

Wish to go on

President of the Memorial Foundation, Steve Feldman, said the names of the Columbia crew will be added to the wall "within months".

"When the initial shock is passed, we will form a committee of designers, representatives of the families and living astronauts to determine where would be the most appropriate place," he said.

Kalpana Chawla.
Kalpana Chawla has a special place in Indian hearts
There is almost total support here on what is known as the Space Coast for the resumption of the shuttle programme just as soon as the causes of this accident are known.

Wandering around the rockets, the exhibitions, the demonstrations and the lectures at the Kennedy Centre, the overwhelming feeling from both locals and visitors alike is that the loss of the Columbia should not be allowed to put a halt to space exploration.

But Roger Leclair, from Washington DC, says he would like to see Nasa scale back on its use of manned flights.

"They used the shuttle for certain things they didn't need to, like launching satellites," he said.

"They've put all their eggs in one basket with the shuttle, and they should have retained some heavy lifter rockets. It's a lot cheaper and safer."

Keep the dream

The centre includes a model of a space shuttle, which gives visitors an idea of the cramped conditions in which astronauts have to work.

Many visitors were paying particular attention to the black tiles under the space craft, which are meant to protect the shuttle on re-entry into the earth's atmosphere.

A fault with the tiles on Columbia is currently the main focus of the investigation into the crash.

Dave and Linda Knudtson, from California, who were staring intently at the small black rectangles say we will probably never be able to know for sure what went wrong.

But Linda spoke for most at the centre in urging Nasa to continue its work.

"I hope we keep the dream," she said. "I can't help but think that those who lost their lives would want that dream to continue."


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03 Feb 03 | Science/Nature
02 Feb 03 | Europe
02 Feb 03 | Americas
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