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Governments and future astronauts express horror and condolences With AM-Space Shuttle

January 29, 1986

Undated (AP) _ The first reports and film of the fiery explosion that destroyed the space shuttle Challenger and its seven crew members Tuesday sent a wave of shock and horror through the world.

Government leaders, space experts and those most deeply affected - past and future astronauts in the shuttle program - poured out their emotions in messages and comments of condolence.

Ernst Messerschmidt, one of two West German astronauts who flew in Challenger in November, said: ″It is terrible to see these pictures, especially when you know some of the people involved. It’s even harder to think that it could have been you.″

Wubbo Ockels, a Dutch scientist who also flew on Challenger in November, said he was ″terribly shocked and terribly sad″ about the disaster, and the deaths of ″colleagues and friends.″

″NASA has done everything to guarantee safety,″ he said, ″but there’s no such thing as infallibility, and the seven knew that and so did we all.″

″Space travel is no daredevil″ undertaking, Ockels said, ″but a discovery of a new territory, a new space that is very beautiful.″

Mexican astronuat Rodolfo Neri Vela, who flew on the shuttle Atlantis in November, said: ″If I had a chance to make another space trip, I would go. ... I knew that I was running a great risk but I don’t recall having been nervous, but happy.

He said he could not believe the news at first: ″I could not accept the idea that this could happen. This is a national tragedy for the United States ... but I believe it is a tragedy for the world as well.″

Chiaki Naito, 33, scheduled to become the first Japanese woman in space aboard a future Challenger flight, said, ″I don’t want to talk about it,″ the Japanese news agency Kyodo reported. ″I will answer questions in the morning.″

President Francois Mitterrand of France said: ″It has always been the destiny of courageous people, discoverers of new worlds, to pay such a heavy tribute to progress.″

The U.N. Security Council paused at the start of debate in New York to extend condolences to the United States.

Speaking for the 15-member peacekeeping body, Council President Li Luye of China said, ″We are saddened by this human loss to the space endeavors of the United States.″

U.N. Ambassador Vasiliy S. Safronchuk of the Soviet Union, four of whose astronauts have been killed since it sent the first man into space in 1961, said: ″More than any other country, we understand the difficulties and problems connected with this enterprise, and we sincerely sympathize with the United States.″

Safronchuk had said earlier that the U.S. space-defense research program, commonly called ″Star Wars,″ should be abandoned ″to avoid the tragic loss of human lives.″

Asked whether he was linking the research project and Challenger, he said: ″No, I am not at this stage. It was just an accident. After all, we know that such a loss cannot be excluded altogether. ... It might happen while developing the peaceful use of ... space. It may happen during developing the ‘Star Wars’ program.″

Poland’s state television made the connection, calling the Challenger explosion a warning of catastrophe that might occur if the United States goes ahead with Star Wars, which is formally called the Strategic Defense Initiative.

″The tragic accident of the space shuttle ... proves how unreliable the technique at the Pentagon’s disposal is,″ a commentator said after film of the disaster was shown.

The official Soviet news agency Tass issued its first brief report of the explosion 30 minutes after it occurred, and the evening news showed film of the explosion.

China’s news agency Xinhua reported the disaster in a three-paragraph dispatch from Washington.

″Deep sympathy with NASA″ came from the European Space Agency. The accident was ″a disaster for NASA and for space in general, and as ESA is in space, a disaster for us,″ spokesman Jean-Paul Paille said in Paris.

Paille’s agency builds the Ariane satellite launcher as a commercial rival to the shuttle, but cooperates closely with NASA on other projects and built the Spacelab carried on previous shuttle flights.

French astronaut Patrick Baudry, who also took part in a shuttle flight, praised NASA’s training program and the shuttle.

″Once you get inside, you have great confidence in the machine, the team. ... NASA takes no risks.″ He added, however, that space technology was so complex and delicate that ″there is no routine yet.″

Sandy Henney, spokesman for the British space program, said: ″Obviously we are devastated by this news. It is a loss of life.″

Squadron Leader Nigel Wood and Lt. Col. Richard Farrimond were to have flown to Houston later this week to begin intensive training for a June mission on the shuttle Columbia.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada said on national television less than an hour after the explosion: ″It is a terrible loss in remarkably tragic circumstances,″ but it ″ought not discourage us from participating in this great adventure.″

The director of the Italian space program, Luciano Guerriero, told the Italian news agency AGI: ″It’s more than a tragedy, it’s a catastrophe.″

U.S. space authorities face a formidable task in rebuilding the program, he was quoted as saying: ″They not only have to tackle the scientific aspects, but the psychology of space fliers. Unfortunately there is nothing absolutely safe.″

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