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Sunday, 2 February, 2003, 17:05 GMT
Space shuttle lost: Your reaction
The US space shuttle Columbia has broken up soon after re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board.
All contact with the shuttle was lost about 15 minutes before it was due to land at the Kennedy space centre in Florida.
Nasa has not confirmed what happened to the spacecraft but its vapour trail was seen to disintegrate into several smaller trails in the sky and there are reports of a loud boom and falling debris.
Both Nasa and the White House are flying their US flags at half-mast.
What will this mean for the future of the space programme? Is space flight worth the risks and expense?
This Talking Point is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
My heart is broken at the loss of seven people today. My windows rattled but at that moment I did not know why. I assumed it was some jet planes over head. It was about five minutes later I turned the TV on and started to hear the news.
I send this message with a great deal of sadness caused by the news of the horrific incident regarding Columbia Space Mission.
I join all my American friends in mourning this loss.
I also pray to God for guiding Mr. Bush/ Blair towards peace rather than war in Iraq
Jun Zhang, China
This is a personal tragedy for everyone at Nasa - a very close-knit community. Our thoughts must go out to all of them. I remember vividly watching Columbia launch for the very first time and each subsequent mission has been tremendously exciting.
I would be extremely surprised if there was any sort of negligence on Nasa's part - they are obsessed with safety. They will find out what happened and then move on. They will not abandon the frontier of space.
This is a tragedy for the families, but there is something suspect and sick about this global "grief". These people were risk takers. Compare them to the thousands who die every day from Aids, for example, and I think it's clear there's something misplaced in this hysterical response.
Ian Woollard, UK
Before the age of VCRs, I taped the launch of Columbia in April 1981 when I was 10 years old. I sit today listening to that tape, grieving for the astronauts and their families, remembering the hope and idealism of that time.
Hopefully this tragedy will underscore the need to replace our aging shuttle fleet and build one for the 21st Century. With the increased demands of cargo hauling for the international space station and the ambitions of NASA for a lunar base and Mars landing the next few decades, it is time to construct ships worthy of these tasks.
In 1983 (if I recall correctly) the shuttle Columbia flew piggy-back over Manchester, UK, on a 747. It was a magnificent sight to witness, and now 20 or so years on, I'm seeing the demise of the same orbiter and her crew. I'm so sorry for the loss.
When the piece of insulation broke free from the external fuel tank of Columbia, Nasa should have brought the space vehicle back to a landing site asap rather than do further damage by extending the flight.
As a Canadian, I am dismayed at the loss of the Columbia. Canada is a country that supports multilateralism, and the space program has been one of the most fruitful multilateral initiatives. I truly hope this will not kill our attempts to explore our planet's environs.
I watched the launch with a collection of different nationalities while at work here in the oilfields of the Caspian. We watched in wonder, as she left the pad and soared perfectly into the sky. The same multi-national group watched in shock and horror at what unfolded in front of us last evening.
There is no simple and safe way to hurl a person into space. Astronauts understand this better than anyone and take the risk for us all because it is in the soul of humanity to explore, to seek and understand.
The headlines on the BBC website read "Shuttle disaster"- 7 astronauts perish, whilst further down the page you read "Train Accident" - 40 killed in Zimbabwe. One is a disaster whilst the other is an accident! My heartfelt condolences go out to the family of those brave astronauts but we need to get things in perspective as well.
Sorry, sorry for all in space shuttle Columbia.
It is indeed shocking to hear the devastating news of Columbia. India has lost a woman who was doing India proud, she being the first Indian woman to go to space. I pray that God give their families the strength to face this tragic incident. May they all rest in peace.
Ellen Edgerton, USA
As a regular reader of BBC News Online, this is the first time it has made me cry.
I only put up a poster of the shuttle on my bedroom wall yesterday and had a book about the history for Christmas.
I'm too young to remember Challenger but this news is clearly in the same level of tragedy.
Of course it was the Challenger anniversary only the other day!
We live in the Dallas area, and heard a loud rumbling sound around 8:00 AM (CST) this morning. We were horrified to learn later that we had apparently heard the shuttle breaking up. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the crew.
We saw the launch at Cape Canaveral a fortnight ago whilst on holiday. It is so sad that the shuttle we saw leaving will not be coming home.
Ivan Lafollette, MD, USA
I was very young when the Challenger was lost. I remember how I felt then, as a young boy, realising for the first time that astronauts where mortal, not some superheroes, or the stuff of legends. I was too young then to know about Apollo 13.
This morning, I am again feeling like the lost little boy.
Future budget considerations for Nasa will adversely affect the progression of human technology. The chance of us witnessing a man walk on Mars in our lifetimes has been cut in half this morning. I think we all remember reading as kids about the moon colonies that we should have had by now. We had better work to advance the space programme in the names of these seven heroes, otherwise they will have died in vain.
David Hothersall, England
The question is: was the concern about the wing damage minimised, given the terrible real and PR option of abandoning the shuttle? We will know, as we eventually did with Challenger, if there was a debate with the engineers...
An overwhelming tragedy. Our American friends continue to amaze me with their resilience in the face of catastrophe. The road to recovery has no doubt already begun.
We can't ever forget that space travel is dangerous, that exploration, by nature, carries risk. The best way we can honour these astronauts, every astronaut who has died in their work, is to keep reaching up.
It is the saddest news at a time when the world is already going through a crisis. But the loss of Columbia with the seven astronauts shall be the loss to humankind's thirst to break new barriers in science and technology, but still never losing heart and moving ahead with each calamity. Columbia will always be remembered as our first ship with an innovative technology and its astronauts as the brave sailors going down with it.
Jennie Kermode, Scotland
My heart goes out to the families of these brave people. We need to pray for the families comfort and peace in this most tragic time. Pray for the Israeli people on the loss of a national hero.
Unbelievable that the shuttle programme has suffered another disaster - and desperately sad that it was so close to the end of the mission. Heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the astronauts.
It is a very sad day for the people in Israel who wait for our Ilan come back to earth.
We are speechless today...
Rob Loveday, UK
I live in Houston - home to the Johnson Space Center. My neighbours, family and friends work in various phases of the space programme. Some are astronauts. It is impossible to convey the sense of loss within the Nasa family. To this day, I still cannot watch replays of the Challenger accident. We must remember that space travel is not routine - rather it is very dangerous.
We have all been lulled into a sense that it is safe because of the relative clean safety record since Challenger. The brave people who choose to be astronauts know and accept this because the exploration of space and science is important. For those of us in Clear Lake, this tragedy is very personal.
Simon Andrew, UK
While this is a terrible tragedy, I hope this doesn't lead to Nasa being even more cautious. For humans to conquer space, risks need to be taken. No new frontier was gained without loss of brave pioneers.
America is the only country remotely interested in space travel; through them people from around the world are finding out about space. This is a sad loss not just to America but to the whole world.
I was up at 5:50 AM PST to see the shuttle as it passed over the San Francisco area. At that time, it looked like a normal re-entry. Who knew it would lead to this? In a lot of ways, this reminds me of Challenger. Looked like a perfect launch, then went up in flames.
I was in the sixth grade when Challenger was lost. I had to re-read the news article several times - I kept seeing the name Challenger instead of Columbia. I can't believe we lost another, brave crew. My heart goes out to the families of the crew members.
Tom Byrne, USA
My thoughts go out to the families of the crew. This is a terrible blow to the space programme; however this can sometimes be the cost of exploration and human advancement. The crew knew the risks and let's hope they have not been let down in the same way the Challenger crew were in 1986.
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