Publish date:
Updated on
Year
2003

Bush addresses the nation after space shuttle Columbia explodes

On this day in 2003, after ordering the nation’s flags to fly at half-staff, President George W. Bush solemnly addresses the public via live television in the wake of the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia. Hours earlier, television crews had captured Columbia‘s tragic disintegration upon reentering the earth’s atmosphere. All aboard were killed. This was the nation’s second space shuttle disaster—in 1986, the space shuttle Challenger had exploded during its ascent, also killing the entire crew.

While the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began its investigation, the president confirmed in his public statement that none of Columbia‘s astronauts had survived. Bush also spoke of growing American complacency toward space travel: In an age when space flight has come to seem almost routine, it is easy to overlook the dangers of travel by rocket, and the difficulties of navigating the fierce outer atmosphere of the earth. These astronauts knew the dangers and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life.

Days after the tragedy, the deeply religious Bush eulogized the shuttle’s crew at a memorial service, reciting biblical passages and saying the same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The president delivered detailed individual tributes to the seven members of Columbia‘s crew, discussing their backgrounds and reasons for becoming astronauts. He praised the international makeup of the space program, referring to the Columbia crew members from Israel and India. Bush also shared a quote from the Columbia commander that he found particularly moving: “If this thing doesn’t come out right, don’t worry about me, I’m just going on higher.” In closing, the president vowed that America’s unbroken faith in the mission of the [space program] would continue in honor of those who had given their lives in the pursuit of science.

Further manned American space flight was put on hold until an investigation into the causes of the Columbia disaster could be completed. Finally, on July 26, 2005, the Discovery was sent into orbit, even as NASA was criticized by some for returning a shuttle to space before the problems that had downed Columbia had been satisfactorily addressed.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Portuguese king and heir assassinated

On February 1, 1908, King Carlos I of Portugal and his eldest son, Luis Filipe, are assassinated by revolutionaries while riding in an open carriage through the streets of Lisbon, the Portuguese capital. Carlos ascended to the Portuguese throne in 1889 after the death of his ...read more

Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran

On February 1, 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran in triumph after 15 years of exile. The shah and his family had fled the country two weeks before, and jubilant Iranian revolutionaries were eager to establish a fundamentalist Islamic government under Khomeini’s ...read more

Oxford Dictionary debuts

On this day in 1884, the first portion, or fascicle, of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), considered the most comprehensive and accurate dictionary of the English language, is published. Today, the OED is the definitive authority on the meaning, pronunciation and history of ...read more

Operation Plan 34A commences

U.S. and South Vietnamese naval forces initiate Operation Plan (Oplan) 34A, which calls for raids by South Vietnamese commandos, operating under American orders, against North Vietnamese coastal and island installations. Although American forces were not directly involved in the ...read more

Nixon announces his candidacy for president

Richard M. Nixon announces his candidacy for the presidency. Most observers had written off Nixon’s political career eight years earlier, when he had lost to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election. Two years after losing to Kennedy, Nixon ran for governor of California and lost in ...read more

NHL goalie Terry Sawchuk posts 103rd shutout

On this day in 1970, goaltender Terry Sawchuk earns his 103rd shutout, setting the NHL record for most regular-season shutouts that stood for nearly four decades. Terrance Gordon Sawchuk was born December 28, 1929, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Nicknamed “Ukey” for his Ukrainian ...read more

Mormon president goes underground

John Taylor, the president of the Mormon Church, goes “underground” to avoid arrest and continue resisting federal demands for reforms within the community of Latter-day Saints. A former Methodist minister, Taylor converted to Mormonism in 1836, not long after Joseph Smith ...read more

Serial killer Ted Bundy strikes again

On this day in 1974, University of Washington student Lynda Ann Healy disappears from her apartment and is killed by Ted Bundy. The murder marked Bundy’s entry into the ranks of serial killers as he had recently attacked his first victim, Sharon Clarke, in her Seattle home. By ...read more

U.N. condemns PRC for aggression

By a vote of 44 to 7, the United Nations General Assembly passes a resolution condemning the communist government of the People’s Republic of China for acts of aggression in Korea. It was the first time since the United Nations formed in 1945 that it had condemned a nation as an ...read more

Texas secedes

On this day in 1861, Texas becomes the seventh state to secede from the Union when a state convention votes 166 to 8 in favor of the measure. The Texans who voted to leave the Union did so over the objections of their governor, Sam Houston.A staunch Unionist,Houston’s election in ...read more