World Leaders Send Regrets Over Shuttle
BEIJING (AP) _ A day after the space shuttle Columbia burned up on re-entry, more world leaders sent condolences to the United States and the families of the seven crew members who died.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin sent President Bush a message saying he was deeply saddened by the disaster, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. He also sent a message to Israeli President Moshe Katsav.
Jiang said he believed that mankind would continue to make further progress in space exploration despite the setback, Xinhua reported, a reflection of China’s hopes to send its first astronauts into space this year.
The Columbia disintegrated over Texas Saturday, minutes before it was to land, killing all seven crew members, including Israel’s first astronaut and the first Indian-born woman in space.
In the Indian town of Karnal, the birthplace of crew member Kalpana Chawla, jubilation turned to sorrow. She emigrated to the United States in the 1980s and became an astronaut in 1994.
Teenagers and the elderly gathered around a shrine with a photograph of Chawla draped in marigold garlands. In the picture, she was wearing a NASA uniform.
``Yesterday evening we came here to celebrate her arrival. But, when we heard this news we were really shocked,″ said 18-year-old Vivek Nagpal.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in his condolences to President Bush on Saturday that the fact that one of the astronauts was from India ``adds a special poignancy to the tragedy.″
Israeli Ilan Ramon’s role in the mission held special significance for his troubled country, where spirits were lifted when he blasted off last month on Columbia. Ramon, 48, was an air force colonel and the son of a Holocaust survivor.
``We got another slap in the face, as a nation, in addition to the slap we get every day,″ said Gabi Moor, 39, a barber from northern Israel whose shop is next to a cafe damaged last year in one of nearly 90 Palestinian suicide bombings. ``It’s like there is a jinx on us.″
``Dreams in Tatters″ read the headline in the Maariv daily, above a full-page picture of the explosion and an inset showing a smiling, waving Ramon in his orange space suit. ``Crying for Ilan,″ declared the Yediot Ahronot daily above a similar spread.
Pope John Paul II invited all to pray for the astronauts, and said the explosion ``stirs up strong emotion in everyone,″ John Paul said in an appearance from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, which was crowded with pilgrims and tourists.
``I invite all to pray for the victims of the accident, experts in carrying out an international scientific mission, the pope said.
The crowd below stood in silence for a few moments after those words, before the pontiff went on with remarks about other world events.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi delivered his prayers to Bush. The accident will immediately affect Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who was to fly on NASA’s next shuttle mission, planned for March 1. U.S. officials have suspended all shuttle flights during the investigation of the Columbia accident.
Condolences also came in from Hong Kong, South Korea and Pakistan. Numerous other leaders had delivered words of grief shortly after the tragedy Saturday.
``The Afghan people are very sad for our brothers in the United States and we share their grief,″ said Sayed Fazel Akbar, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
In China, some tempered grief with hope.
``Mankind will not give up the dream of space exploration,″ Chen Maozhang, a professor at China’s University of Aeronautic and Astronautic Science and Technology, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.
``Facing the setbacks, mankind needs to find out the cause of the accident and make improvements,″ Chen said.
China is pushing its bid to become the third nation, after Russia and the United States, that is able to send its own astronauts into orbit.