It is fitting we are gathered here on the shuttle runway for this event. It was here last Saturday that family and friends waited anxiously to celebrate with the crew their successful mission and safe return to earth.
It never happened.
I’m sure that Columbia, which had traveled millions of miles and made that fiery re-entry 27 times before, struggled mightily in those last moments to bring her crew home safely once again. She wasn’t successful.
Columbia was a fine ship. She was named after Robert Gray’s exploration ship, which sailed out of Boston Harbor in the 18th centry. Columbia and the other orbiters were all named after great explorer ships, because that is their mission, to explore the unknown.
Columbia was hardly a thing of beauty, except to those of us who loved and cared for her. She was often bad-mouthed for being a little heavy in the rear end. But many of us can relate to that. Many said she was old and past her prime.
Still, she had lived barely a quarter of her design life; in years, she was only twenty-two. Columbia had a great many missions ahead of her. She along with the crew had her life snuffed our in her prime…
There’s heavy grief in our hearts, which will diminish in time, but it will never go away, and we will never forget.
Hail Rick, Willie, KC, Mike, Laurel, Dave, and Ilan. Hail Columbia.
– Astronaut Robert Crippen’s Eulogy for the Shuttle Columbia Astronauts
Crippen served as the first pilot of Columbia on her maiden voyage in April 1981