Today, the nation paid respects to the seven men and women who perished in the Space Shuttle " Columbia " tragedy. It is hard to overestimate the collective sorrow their deaths brought to us. It is a small measure of comfort that they spent the last sixteen days of their young lives doing the thing they loved most—exploring what lies beyond Earth's thin layer of atmosphere.
While suffering setbacks, it's worth noting some of NASA's successes. We put the first humans on the moon, and returned them safely. That was 33 years ago. With the two Voyager probes, we obtained the first close-up pictures of the outer planets. Those two little machines became the first man-made objects ever to leave the Solar System into true outer space. We soft-landed a rocket on Mars—millions of miles distant—that beamed back the first pictures from the surface of another planet. That was like hitting a dime with a .22 caliber rifle—shoulder-held—from five miles away! Those were both more than a quarter-century ago.