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Searching For AnswersDespitethe tragic loss of the shuttle Columbia and its crew, the spaceprogram must not be abandoned, says a former shuttle commanderand Tufts graduate.Houston

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.03.03] Recently released sensor readings showing a sharp temperatureincrease on Columbia’s left side appear to provide moreevidence that damaged heat tiles may have played a role in thedisintegration of the shuttle. While scientists pore over datafrom the shuttle’s last moments, former NASAastronaut RickHauck says it is too early to determine the cause of the accident.Whatever the cause, the Tufts graduate believes the space programmust not be abandoned in the wake of the Columbia accident.

Rick Hauck's talks with MSNBC [ WatchIt Here ]

“Ithink that the [sensor readings] that were discussed in Saturday’spress conference could lead NASA down one path that they willhave to explore, and that has to do with the possibility of tiledamage,” former shuttle commander Rick Hauck told NBC’sMeet The Press. “But as they have very carefullysaid, they cannot be distracted from looking at other possibilities.”

The ongoinginvestigation will be thorough and open.

TheColumbiablastsoff.“Thepeople that are there, the people that I worked with, the peopleled by Sean O’Keefe today are absolutely professionals,and there would be absolutely nothing to be gained by a cover-up,”Hauck – who was inducted into the AstronautHall of Fame in 2001 – told host Tim Russert.

While theloss of Columbia dealt a major blow to NASA, the 1962 Tufts graduatesaid abandoning the nation’s space program in order to focusentirely on domestic and foreign policy issues would be a mistake.

“Thatwould be turning away from a bit of our destiny,” Haucktold Meet The Press. “It’s clear that wehave a lot of issues competing for our tax dollars, but we nevertake all of our money and devote it to solve one problem. We’realways in a position of having to diversify our resources andpick priorities. It’s a question of leadership and it’sa question of what the American will is.”

The membersof Columbia’s crew, Hauck said, would have wanted the spaceprogram to continue on.

“Ithink all of those that died would say, ‘Don’t abandonthe cause. Don’t let our death be in vain. Don’t grievefor us. Grieve for each other, but not for us,’” saidthe Tufts graduate.

Hauck –who flew three missions to space – knows first hand howdifficult it is for NASA to rebuild after a shuttle accident.

Followingthe 1986 Challenger explosions, all NASA shuttles were groundedfor three years while an intense and wide-spread investigationtook place.

When theprogram was ready to return to space after the Challenger disaster,it was Hauckwho was at the helm of the shuttle.

“Iwas scared [during launch], but I was scared on the other twoshuttles I had flown on,” Hauck told the international newsservice Agence France Presse. “It was kind of paradoxical.I felt more vulnerable because I knew that humans had been killedin space on the shuttle before but I also felt it would be thesafest mission ever.”

To breakthe tension before liftoff, Hauck and his crew joked about a groupof buzzards they saw circling the launch pad from the cockpit’swindows.

“Wejoked about what do they know that we don’t know,”Hauck told the Washington Post.

Astronauts,he said, are well aware of the risks associated with their jobs.Losing colleagues is hard, but the missions must go on.

“Hauckdraws an analogy to returning to a ski slope where your friendsuffered a tragic accident,” reported the Post.“When you reach that place on the hill, ‘sure, you’llthink about that,’ he says. ‘But you’re notgoing to think it will happen to you. If you dwell on such things,you’re in the wrong business.’”

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