Former astronaut John Glenn, others react to apparent shuttle accident

Published: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 11:28 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 11:28 a.m.

Former astronaut John Glenn and his wife had just turned on their television to watch the space shuttle Columbia return home Saturday when communications with the craft were lost as it soared across Texas.

"We were going to be watching the landing and then it got into trouble," Glenn said.

"Anytime you lose contact like that, there's some big problem. Of course, once you went for several minutes without any contact, you knew something was terribly wrong."

Glenn, also a former senator from Ohio, said he had met Columbia's commander, astronaut Rick Husband, while training for his 1998 flight but did not know him well. Glenn said he didn't know any of the other astronauts on board.

Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth on Feb. 20, 1962. In 1998, at age 77, he became the oldest space traveler when he returned on the shuttle Discovery. Later that year, he retired from the Senate after representing Ohio for 24 years.

The only other fatal accident involving the shuttle fleet was the explosion of Challenger in 1986, which killed all seven astronauts on board.

"I think NASA's safety record has been an amazing safety record over the years," Glenn said.

House Democratic leaders were meeting Saturday at a mountain resort in western Pennsylvania.

"We thought that matters we were dealing with were of the greatest seriousness. But it isn't of the greatest urgency for us to discuss them right now," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said at Farmington, Pa. "What is urgent is that we retire to the room with our colleagues to lead them in prayer."

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those on board," Pelosi said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the American people who place so much hope and who associate themselves with the courage and the bravery of those who venture into space."

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