Senator Maria Cantwell’s Statement on the Columbia Shuttle Tragedy

"Mr. President, I rise today to honor the seven heroes lost in the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003.

The seven members of the Columbia crew will be deeply missed by their families, NASA, our entire country, and others following this historic mission.

Though I could recite an astonishing list of accomplishments for each of the seven astronauts, their most important contribution was the example of bravery, courage, and excellence that they set for men, women, and children across the land. I am proud to say that one of these heroes, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Michael Anderson was a beloved son of the Spokane community and a cherished hero for men, women and children in Washington. But Michael Anderson was a hero long before he accepted the challenge of the Columbia mission.

Lieutenant Colonel Anderson knew he wanted to be an astronaut at the early age of three. This dream followed him to Washington, when he and his family moved to the Spokane area at age eleven after his father was assigned to the nearby Fairchild Air Force Base. Throughout his early education in Spokane area public schools, Anderson remained focused on his goal of being an astronaut, becoming an exceptional science student, and overcoming all of the challenges facing a young African American man in this country.

He graduated from Cheney High School in Cheney, Washington in 1977, and continued his science education with a Bachelor of Science degree in physics/astronomy from the University of Washington in 1981, when he was also commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. Anderson later completed a Master of Science degree in physics from Creighton University in 1990.

Since becoming an astronaut in 1994, Michael Anderson took to heart his responsibility as a role model for children around the country and back home. After his 1998 flight on the space shuttle Endeavor to the Mir space station, Anderson visited his alma mater, Cheney High School. With a crowd of enthralled students listening on, Anderson told the students that they could do what he had done if they set goals and worked hard.

Anderson also left the students a reminder of his achievement, returning a school pennant that he had taken to space with him on the mission. On display in the school’s main entrance, this pennant, along with a mission patch and small flag that also went into space, continue to serve as an inspiration to the school’s students.

Lieutenant Colonel Anderson is an amazing story of courage, achievement against many odds, and sacrifice for this country. He provided a demonstration of excellence and offered a triumphant example of accomplishment for Americans of all color, race and background. He will be missed, but we will never be forgotten.

The Washington family has also lost another friend in Navy Commander Willie McCool, who made Anacortes, Washington his home during two terms of service at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Commander McCool was not only well regarded during his time at Whidbey, but he continued his tie to the community after he left. Community members remember him for his kindness and professionalism and his love of children – he often returned to Fidalgo Elementary School to discuss his work as an astronaut. We lost a good friend in Commander McCool and also lost a piece of home – he brought a bit of Anacortes with him on Columbia in the form of a Douglas fir cone from the surrounding forest.

Though the loss of this crew is a sober reminder of the risks involved with human space flight, I join the President and many of my fellow Members of Congress in calling for the continued support of NASA’s space shuttle program. Critically, this support, together with a continued investigation of this tragedy, must be focused on ensuring the safety of future space shuttle flights.

The space shuttle program remains a leading force in scientific research and in stimulating public interest in space exploration. This leadership is exemplified by the numerous experiments conducted by the Columbia crew before the tragic re-entry, and the interest of scientists, school children and people worldwide. The space shuttle is also critical for the assembly and operation of the International Space Station. Importantly, the benefits of the experiments conducted on the space shuttle and the International Space Station extend beyond the scientific community to directly enhance the lives of individuals across the globe, whether in finding cures to diseases or helping us understand the origin of the universe.

While the tremendous technical and scientific accomplishments of NASA demonstrate vividly that humans can achieve previously inconceivable feats, the exploration of space also humbles us by exhibiting the miracle of this tiny "blue marble" in the cosmos and the wonder and preciousness of human life.

Thank you, and I yield the floor."