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Summary: This message will be somewhat different from most of mine because we are a nation in mourning. Eight days ago, the north Texas sky was filled with the sound of a loud “boom”... (*Powerpoint Available - #249)

MELVIN M. NEWLAND, MINISTER CENTRAL CHRISTIAN, BROWNSVILLE, TX

(Changed e-mail address: PowerPoint for this message is available free of charge. Just e-mail me at mnewland@sstelco.com with your request - #249)

The message this morning is going to be somewhat different from most of mine because we are a nation in mourning. And I feel that it would be helpful for us to consider some of the events & observations of this past week.

ILL. Of course you know what I am talking about. Eight days ago, the north central Texas sky was filled with the sound of a loud, explosive “boom” & the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia. Re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, gliding toward its landing field, flying at 200,700 feet, & traveling at the speed of 12,500 miles per hour, it suddenly disintegrated with the loss of its entire crew.

The accident was sudden, horrific, & a tragic reminder of Apollo 1 in 1967, & of the Challenger disaster that occurred 17 years & 3 days earlier.

At first, no one at NASA realized what had happened. The NY Times reports, “Just minutes before the spaceship was lost, flight specialists in Houston had been communicating with the crew … Nothing appeared wrong. Then Mission Control in Houston said, ‘We did not copy your last.’ ‘Roger, uh—‘ came the reply from the shuttle, & then there was silence, as if the astronaut had been cut off in mid-sentence, & then just static.”

Almost immediately disturbing reports & pictures began coming in as NASA officials frantically tried to re-establish communication with the shuttle. Finally we heard this announcement: “The space shuttle Columbia is gone & 7 brave people are lost.” And a few moments later, as if in confirmation, a stunned nation saw the flag at the Kennedy Space Center being lowered to half-staff.

What we had come to consider routine, now seems anything but. What we were taking for granted, we can do so no longer. What had seemed unthinkable, is now a grim reality, revealing the depth of human tragedy, & the uncertainty of life itself.

ILL. It was to a shocked & sorrowing nation that our President spoke that afternoon.

He said: "My fellow Americans, this day has brought terrible news & great sadness to our country. At 9:00 a.m. this morning, Mission Control in Houston lost contact with our Space Shuttle Columbia. A short time later, debris was seen falling from the skies above Texas. The Columbia is lost; there are no survivors.

“On board was a crew of seven: Colonel Rick Husband; Lt. Colonel Michael Anderson; Commander Laurel Clark; Captain David Brown; Commander William McCool; Dr. Kalpana Chawla; & Ilan Ramon, a Colonel in the Israeli Air Force. These men & women assumed great risk in the service to all humanity.

“In an age when space flight has come to seem almost routine, it is easy to overlook the dangers of travel by rocket, & the difficulties of navigating the fierce outer atmosphere of the Earth.

“These astronauts knew the dangers, & they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high & noble purpose in life. Because of their courage & daring & idealism, we will miss them all the more.

“All Americans today are thinking, as well, of the families of these men & women who have been given this sudden shock & grief. You’re not alone. Our entire nation grieves with you. And those you loved will always have the respect & gratitude of this country.

“The cause in which they died will continue. Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery & the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on.

“In the skies today we saw destruction & tragedy. Yet farther than we can see there is comfort & hope. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, ’Lift your eyes & look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one & calls them each by name. Because of His great power & mighty strength, not one of them is missing’ (Isaiah 40:25-26).

“The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the 7 souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home.

“May God bless the grieving families, & may God continue to bless America." --George W. Bush

And folks, that is my prayer today, too. In fact, let’s pray right now. “Lord, as we come to you in prayer this morning our hearts are burdened for the families of those who died in this tragedy. Father of mercies & God of all comfort, may your presence & your people surround them & minister to them in this difficult time.

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