NASA, Senators Vow to Resume Shuttle Flights
Byline: Ellen Sorokin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration promised yesterday to resume shuttle flights as early as June, and several key senators vowed renewed support for the nation's space program.
President Bush will propose a nearly $470 million boost in NASA's budget for fiscal 2004, an administration official said Sunday, promising investigators would look into whether past cutbacks played any part in the space shuttle Columbia disaster.
NASA also announced that it had appointed a retired admiral to lead its investigation into the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia on Saturday.
"Once we find out what that cause was, and once we correct that, we're going to fly again," NASA chief Sean O'Keefe said on ABC's "This Week" yesterday.
Several members of Congress promised renewed commitment to U.S. space-exploration endeavors.
"We can't step back," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, said on "Fox News Sunday," adding, "We wouldn't be the greatest country on Earth if we did."
Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, said the disaster should lead to a renewal of the U.S. commitment to space programs.
"We've got to lift the human spirit," he said. "We've got to fulfill our destiny as people of explorers and adventurers, and go to Mars and back to the Moon."
The nation's astronauts, including two of the earliest ones, said the dangers of space travel were well-known and should not deter exploration.
"I'd be down there tomorrow morning," said John H. Glenn Jr., 81, on NBC's "Meet the Press." In 1962, he became the first American to orbit the Earth.
Scott Carpenter, 77, one of the seven Mercury astronauts, said, "The people of this nation will not allow us to abandon our leadership in space. We're going to Mars."
NASA officials, in an early search for clues, said yesterday that Columbia experienced a sharp and sudden rise in temperature on its fuselage before it began to disintegrate. The rise was followed by increased drag on the spacecraft that caused its flight system to adjust the path of the ship.
That information is preliminary, but the officials said it could suggest that the thermal tiles designed to protect the shuttle from burning up during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere were damaged or missing, possibly from an episode earlier in the shuttle's flight.
On the round of morning talk shows yesterday, Mr. O'Keefe promised a round-the-clock investigation would be thorough and disinterested.
The investigation would include studying photographs taken by satellites, reviewing transmissions from the crew and records from the shuttle's sensors, and examining bits of debris found scattered through east Texas and northwestern Louisiana.
Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., who helped lead the Pentagon's inquiry into the USS Cole terrorist bombing in 2000, will be the chairman of the independent investigative commission, dubbed the Space Shuttle Mishap Interagency Investigation Board. Members will inquire into all aspects of the doomed flight. The shuttle disintegrated nearly 40 miles over Texas, killing all seven astronauts aboard. It was traveling at more than 12,000 mph toward the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
"[Adm. Gehman] is well versed in understanding exactly how to go about looking at the forensics of any of these cases and coming up with the causal effects of what could occur," Mr. O'Keefe said on "This Week."
"We're going to find out what led to this, retrace all the steps that were involved and all the events from the time we lost communication with the [crew] and leave absolutely no stone unturned in that process."
Adm. Gehman's commission will be one of at least three investigating the crash. NASA will conduct its own inquiry, as will the House Science Committee, chaired by Rep. …