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Columbia families say ‘never again’

The widows of an American and an Israeli astronaut killed in the Columbia disaster say they hope NASA has learned lessons.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The widows of an American and Israeli astronaut killed in the Columbia disaster said Monday they hoped NASA had learned lessons from the space shuttle accident so it would never happen again.

The families of Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, and William C. McCool, who piloted Columbia on its last mission, told 500 Indian school students and scientists that a lot had to be done to make space travel safe.

“I don’t feel bitter,” Lani McCool later told The Associated Press. “I know only lessons can be learned for space travel, and hope NASA makes those changes.”

Rona Ramon, whose husband was an Israeli air force colonel, said: “A lot has to be done and a lot has to be changed so that it won’t happen again. Lessons will be learnt from this for the future.”

Looking back at causes
In all, seven astronauts were aboard Columbia, including Indian-born Kalpana Chawla, who died when the shuttle broke apart during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere 16 minutes short of touchdown on Feb. 1.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board determined that the shuttle broke apart when superheated air entered a hole in the heat shield on the leading edge of the left wing and melted internal aluminum supports. The accident led the agency to ground the shuttle fleet.

The board also blamed NASA’s overconfident management and disregard of safety measures as much as the chunk of foam insulation that knocked the hole in the wing at launch.

McCool, an artist and photographer now based in Washington state, said the victims’ families remain close.

“All the families naturally bonded together after what happened,” McCool said.

“I want to take after my dad, who was the best in what he did,” said her 16-year-old son, Cameron. He said he wanted to become an artist.

His father was a commander in the U.S. Navy before being selected by NASA in 1996.

Chawla’s husband delayed
Jean-Pierre Harrison, the husband of Chawla, also was scheduled to speak, but his Bombay visit was delayed, organizers at Bombay’s Nehru Planetarium said.

Harrison visited India in March and met aeronautics students at Punjab Engineering College where Chawla studied 25 years ago.

Ramon said the families, who have already visited schools and science centers in the United States and Israel, aim to tell young people around the world that it was important for them “to pursue their dreams, to achieve their potential and to reach for the stars.”

This week, they will visit more than a dozen schools and colleges in Bombay and New Delhi.

“It’s tough to go out and talk to people because we know they (the astronauts) were supposed to be here and not us,” Ramon said. “But we need to keep their legacy alive and feel it is our mission to do this.”