Two days after the destruction of the U-S shuttle Columbia, President Bush has promised to return Americans to space to solve mysteries of science.
Mr. Bush spoke of the Columbia crew's commitment to science Monday in remarks at the National Institutes of Health in (the state of) Maryland. He said the seven astronauts who died in Saturday's accident will be remembered in part for their sense of wonder.
Meanwhile, a senior U-S space agency official says investigators will take as much time as necessary to discover why the space shuttle broke apart over Texas.
The official, Associate Space Flight Administrator William Readdy, says the agency wants to gather every scrap of evidence it can as experts try to determine what caused the winged spaceship to disintegrate as it descended to Earth.
Mr. Readdy, a former astronaut, told reporters today (Monday) that shuttles will not fly again until the answer is found, even if the investigation takes months or years.
The leading theory is that the heat-resistant insulation on Columbia's left wing was damaged by falling fuel tank debris during the shuttle's January 16th lift-off. The damaged insulation may have then allowed hot gases to penetrate the fuselage during the fiery re-entry. But Mr. Readdy said investigators have not ruled out any possible cause.
Earlier Monday, a White House spokesman said it is too soon to say whether the United States should build a replacement for Columbia, or accelerate development of the next generation of space vehicles. NASA said it has not requested a replacement.
The Bush administration is proposing to increase shuttle spending next year by about 24 percent, to three-point-nine-billion dollars. The proposal was finalized before the shuttle disaster Saturday.
In Washington, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe briefed President Bush on the accident investigation today (Monday) at the White House.