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Astronauts, Goverments Mourn Space Shuttle Tragedy

January 29, 1986

Undated (AP) _ The fiery blast that disintegrated space shuttle Challenger and killed its crew of seven shocked and saddened the world, but was especially horrible for astronauts around the globe who had ridden the shuttle into space or were training for future flights.

Reactions to Tuesday’s disaster from scientists and fliers of nearly every continent as well as world leaders reflected how the exploration of space has become part of the fabric of society on Earth.

Two space calamities in 1967 and 1971 claimed the lives of three Americans and four Soviets, but then there was no international community of astronauts. Many would-be and former astronauts saw the videotape of Tuesday’s liftoff and the blazing explosion that followed seconds later. ″It is terrible to see these pictures, especially when you know some of the people involved,″ said Ernst Messerschmidt, one of two West German astronauts who flew in Challenger in November. ″It’s even harder to think that it could have been you.″

French astronaut Patrick Baudry, who flew on the shuttle Discovery’s flight last June, praised NASA’s training program and the shuttle itself. ″Once you get inside, you have great confidence in the machine, the team. NASA takes no risks,″ he said.

The Shuttle disaster raised questions today over the French-backed plan for a European shuttle, but French Science Minister Hubert Curien stressed that while ″taking account of the Americans’ findings, we will continue.″

The plan is for a manned shuttle to fly in the 1990s on Ariane 5, an updated version of the current European Space Agency rocket.

In Tokyo, 33-year-old Chiaki Naito, scheduled to be the first Japanese woman in space aboard a Challenger flight in January 1988, told a news conference: ″I don’t feel like riding the shuttle at this point, but if safety is ensured I’m ready to go.″

Hiroyuki Ohzawa, head of Japan’s National Space Development Agency, said the destruction of Challenger would not deter its plans to put an astronaut in space.

Three Japanese, two men and Ms. Naito, have been chosen as candidates and are now undergoing training.

From Europe, to Asia, Africa and Latin America, letters of condolencences poured in from government leaders.

″We partake of your grief at the tragic death of the crew of the space shuttle Challenger,″ Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev said in a telegram to President Reagan today, according to the official news agency Tass.

Buckingham Palace said today that Britain’s Prince Charles and Princess Diana sent a message to President Reagan expressing their sympathy. The text of the message was not made public.

Among the others who expressed their sympathy were Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, French President Francois Mitterrand, and Argentine President Raul Alfonsin.

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

South African President P.W. Botha said in a statement to Reagan, ″Every American triumph in space was shared by us in South Africa. Now I wish you to know that we share in your grief and that of the American people. We also share your hope.″

The Soviet Union reacted with unusual swiftness in contrast to the secrecy surrounding Soviet mishaps. The official Soviet news agency Tass reported the news 30 minutes after the fact. Just two hours after Challenger exploded, about 180 million Soviets watching the evening news saw the disaster on film.

With a solemnity usually reserved for official obituaries, an announcer reported five men and two women aboard Challenger had almost certainly perished.

Chinese head of state Li Xiannian sent a message to Reagan expressing shock and sympathy. The Astronautics Ministry also said it was grieved but that the tragedy would not affect talks about possible Chinese participation in a future shuttle mission.

In a rare departure from its normal practice of scheduling international news last on the evening news, state-run Chinese television led with a six- minute report on the space shuttle Challenger.

An audience of up to 200 million Chinese saw the launch, explosion, the reactions of Christa McAuliffe’s pupils in Concord, N.H., and of the teacher’s parents at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Indonesian Post, Tourism and Telecommunications Minister Ahmad Tahir said today the accident will not change his country’s plan to send Indonesian doctor Pratiwi Sudharmono aboard the space shuttle Columbia on June 24, when she is scheduled to help launch an Indonesian communications satellite.

British astronauts who also were to take part in the June mission aboard the Columbia sent a cable of sympathy to NASA headquarters in Houston.

Mexican astronaut 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.″

The European Space Agency expressed ″deep sympathy with NASA.″ 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.

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