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Columbia Memorial Service at Texas Johnson Space Center - 2003-02-04


President Bush attends a memorial today (Tuesday) for the crew of the space shuttle Columbia at the Johnson Space Center in Texas.

Mr. Bush will join NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe in remembering the seven astronauts, who died Saturday when their shuttle broke up on re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. Friends and relatives of the seven also plan to attend the service.

Mr. Bush said Monday the shuttle astronauts made the ultimate sacrifice for scientific discovery. He also promised that the U.S. space program will overcome the Columbia disaster.

Meanwhile, NASA's shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore says the process of collecting Columbia debris for analysis is picking up speed. Thousands of pieces of debris have been retrieved, including the shuttle's nose cone (which was found Monday near the Texas - Louisiana border)

Mr. Dittemore says NASA is still searching for more information to help determine what caused the Columbia to break up.

A leading theory is that the heat-resistant insulation on Columbia's left wing was damaged by falling fuel tank debris during the shuttle's January 16th lift off.

At the time, NASA engineers judged it to be of no concern to the overall safety of the shuttle. But investigators are looking into whether it may have set off a chain of events that led to the Columbia disaster.

Investigators are also focusing on a rise in temperature in the shuttle's left wing minutes before the Columbia was destroyed.

The Bush administration is proposing to increase shuttle spending next year by about 24 percent, to 3.9 billion dollars. The proposal was finalized before the shuttle broke apart on Saturday.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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