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Article Last Updated: Sunday, February 02, 2003 - 11:05:57 PM MST

In memoriam

'How fragile life is -- how much we take for granted'

By Dana Bartholomew
Staff Writers

Eugene Dixon, left, and Hailey Merrill pray
for the astronauts who died aboard the space
shuttle Columbia at The Baha'i Center of
Los Angeles, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2003.
The shuttle tore to pieces Saturday 39
miles above Texas, killing all seven astronauts
With saddened hearts and solemn prayers, Los Angeles joined a nation in mourning Sunday for the lost crew of space shuttle Columbia, whose seven astronauts perished during its explosive re-entry over Texas.

Residents grieved them. Ministers eulogized them. And rabbis memorialized the six Americans and one Israeli aboard ill-fated National Aeronautics and Space Administration mission STS-107.

"At difficult times, we come together. At difficult times, we reach out for each other -- for strength, for hope and for a sense of optimism," Rabbi Michael Resnick said during a memorial service at Temple Adat Shalom in West Los Angeles.

"This is a chance to ask God and pray for those who died, to give comfort to their families, strength in their mourning, comfort the children whose fathers and mothers who died, give them hope and give life and praise to our hearts."

The traditional Jewish mourner's Kaddish, attended by 250 mourners from Orange and Los Angeles counties, honored the Columbia crew by singing songs and lighting seven candles in their memories.

"It's a sad moment. I was shocked into speechlessness," said Ron Vander Dussen, 37, who was so moved he rode his motorcycle from Buena Park to attend his first synagogue service.

"I just want to memorialize the crew."

Columbia disintegrated with a thunderous roar 40 miles above the Earth about 6 a.m. PST Saturday, just 16 minutes before it was scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Flaming metal and toxic debris rained over 500 square miles of east Texas and Louisiana.

The second space shuttle lost in 17 years, the Columbia disaster numbed a nation girding for possible war in Iraq and still reeling from terrorist attacks on New York and Washington nearly 18 months ago.

On board was Air Force Col. Rick D. Husband, 45, of Amarillo, Texas, commander of the flight, who as a boy dreamed of becoming an astronaut and passed his NASA astronaut test on his fourth try.

Navy Cmdr. William C. McCool, 41, of Lubbock, Texas, pilot of the shuttle Columbia during the scientific expedition, had three sons.

Air Force Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson, 43, of Spokane, Wash., was one of a handful of black NASA astronauts, and oversaw the Columbia payload.

Dr. Kalpana Chawla, 41, an aerospace engineer and native of India, had logged 376 hours in space.

Two Navy doctors, Capt. David M. Brown, 46, who had been a child acrobat, and Cmdr. Laurel Salton Clark, 41, of Racine, Wis., father of an 8-year-old son, were also on board.

Ilan Ramon, 48, a second-generation Holocaust survivor, was Israel's first astronaut to fly in space. He had four children.

It was the 28th mission for the Columbia and the 113th shuttle mission to date.

"It was a tragedy," said Emile Barchichat, 46, of Fountain Valley, who as a Rockwell engineer helped build the spacecraft. "Columbia was a good ship, built by good men."

At the Los Angeles Baha'i Center, about 200 mourners heard prayers from members from different denominations.

"It's sad, but true, too, that when there is calamity, there is unity," said Westlake Village resident Shango Dely. "Each time people are touched by problems and difficulties, there is an understanding that what goes on the world isn't controlled by humans, but by God."

Monira Sohaili, who was born in India, said she knows the people of her homeland are mourning Chawla's death.

"In a country where women do not often have the opportunities, she was a hero," Sohaili said. "We're all very sad to hear about them pass away. At the same time, we admire them for being heroes, for being valiant, for exploring space."

At First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, the great organs sounded a requiem by Johannes Brahms.

"As we move into our season of prayers, we will want to remember our astronauts and their families ...," said the Rev. Richard Kurrasch, interim pastor of First Congregational. "How mournful we are, oh God, how fragile life is -- how much we take for granted."

, Staff Writer Susan Abram contributed to this story.

©Copyright 2003, Los Angeles Daily News (CA, USA)

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