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Monday, 3 February, 2003, 14:04 GMT
Houston mourns lost astronauts
Grace Community Church
Two of the dead attended Grace Community Church

Houston, home of Nasa, is a city in mourning.

At the Grace Community Church many worshippers sang with tears in their eyes.

Two of the dead astronauts, Rick Husband and Mike Anderson, were members of the congregation.

This is a community and congregation in shock.

This is also the Bible Belt where people take comfort from their evangelical faith.

Undated file photo of astronaut Laurel Clark
A piece of foam hit the shuttle's left wing shortly after lift-off
"I think it's a tremendous loss. We've lost two of our brothers from here in our congregation," said a member of the church.

"It's a sad tale for the people that are left here. But it's a glorious time for them - they're in a place in heaven with the Lord," said another.

At Houston's Johnson Space Center, more is now known about the final minutes before disaster struck Columbia.

Computer data showed a sharp rise in temperature on the left side of Columbia and unusual efforts by the computer system to correct its flight path.

"We are gaining some confidence that it was a thermal problem rather than a structural indicator. But it's too early for me to speculate on what all that means," says Ron Dittemore, the manager of the shuttle programme.

"I don't have any smoking gun. I don't have anything that I can tell you is the root cause."

Political support

Crucially for Nasa, it is receiving strong support from local politicians anxious to protect the jobs and money the space programme brings to the Houston area.

"I think congress needs to have a resolve that the programme is vital, it's international, it's peaceful. We can't stop now, it's impossible," said Democrat congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Lyndon Johnson Space Centre
The memorial at Lyndon Johnson Space Centre
"The resolve is even stronger now because we understand that we have a programme that is not without risk."

At the entrance to the Lyndon Johnson Space Center, there is now a growing quiet, dignified memorial.

There are American flags, a carpet of flowers and prayers pinned up for the astronauts who lost their lives.

And even after dark, there is still a crowd of people here paying silent tribute to those who died.

Resolve

And there is one common feeling here - that the exploration of space should continue.

"I just think it's in our nature to continue to reach out and strive for those things that are unknown to us," said one man.

"That's our future. Human nature is to explore and to press on. We'll go through a grieving process, we'll investigate and we'll go back to space again."

Popular and political support here for space exploration remains strong.

But Nasa is warning it may take weeks - maybe even months - before it understands the Columbia disaster.

Until it does, there can be no return to the launch pad.


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