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The Columbia Disaster

The space shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry on February 1st 2003.

Below are several examples from The Times and Sunday Times coverage of the incident.

1. Comment on and describe the characteristics of language style for each example.

2. Look at the pages on newspapers and rhetoric to help your analysis.

3. Consider the banality - or simplicity - of some of the language of Bush's speech. Is grandeur too pompous in these circumstances? Is simplicity too banal? Which metaphors are effective and which are not?

4. Do you agree with the commentary on the speech? Give your own views. What does the description of body language and voice quality (see suprasegmental phonemes) add to the written word?

5. How does the personal and expressive e-mail by Laurel Clark add to the factual new reports?

6. Contrast with The Sun's report of the incident and with The Washington Post's report.


The Sunday Times - World

February 02, 2003
Bush: the full statement

"My fellow Americans, this day has brought terrible news and great sadness to our country. At 9am 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; Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Anderson; Commander Laurel Clark; Captain David Brown; Commander William McCool; Dr Kalpana Chawla; and Ilan Ramon, a colonel in the Israeli air force. These men and 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 and the difficulties of navigating the fierce outer atmosphere of the Earth.
These astronauts knew the dangers and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life. Because of their courage and daring and idealism, we will miss them all the more.
All Americans today are thinking, as well, of the families of these men and women who have been given this sudden shock and grief. You’re not alone. Our entire nation grieves with you. And those you loved will always have the respect and 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 and the longing to understand.
Our journey into space will go on.
In the skies today we saw destruction and tragedy. Yet farther than we can see there is comfort and hope.
In the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? “He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”
The same creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven 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, and may God continue to bless America."


World News

February 03, 2003
Columbia: Bush's address

'Astronauts risked all in service of humanity'
From Roland Watson in Washington

WHEN a shaken and teary-eyed President Bush told Americans that “our nation grieves”, he spoke for the country. “The Columbia is lost — there are no survivors,” he said in the opening of a short televised address to the nation on Saturday.
From the rallying Commander-in-Chief, he was forced to switch to the role of comforter-in-chief that he has adopted so frequently in his two years in office.
Brow furrowed and with a voice that at times was barely above a whisper, Mr Bush recited the names of the seven astronauts, saying they had assumed great risk “in the service to all humanity”.
Praising them for pursuing a “high and noble purpose” and for their courage, daring and idealism, he tried to still any doubts about the future of American-led space travel.
“The cause in which they died will continue. Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on,” he said.
His eyes glistened when he quoted Isaiah, adding: “The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven 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.”


Astronauts die as shuttle explodes high above earth
Tony Allen-Mills, Washington

AMERICA was plunged into mourning yesterday after the space shuttle Columbia burst into flames as it re-entered the atmosphere at the end of a 16-day mission. Explosions ripped the craft apart, killing all seven crew members and scattering debris over hundreds of miles.
Mission controllers lost contact with the shuttle minutes before it was due to land at Kennedy Space Center on the Florida coast. It was descending from orbit at 18 times the speed of sound when it disintegrated 200,000ft above the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas shortly after 9am Florida time (2pm British time).
Sean O’Keefe, chief executive of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), described Columbia’s loss as “a horrific tragedy”.
George W Bush cut short a weekend visit to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland to comfort relatives of the victims. “This day has brought terrible news,” he said in an emotional televised address. “The Columbia is lost. There are no survivors.” He insisted, however, that the American space programme would go on.


Laurel Clark, 41, of Racine, Wisconsin, was on her first shuttle mission when Columbia disintegrated over Texas. The day before she died, she sent an e-mail home to family and friends:
"Hello from above our magnificent planet Earth. The perspective s truly awe-inspiring. This is a terrific mission and we are very busy doing science round the clock.
Just getting a moment to type e-mail is precious so this will be short, and distributed to many who I know and love.
"I have seen some incredible sights: lightning spreading over the Pacific, the Aurora Australis lighting up the entire visible horizon with the cityglow of Australia below, the crescent moon setting over the limb of the Earth, the vast plains of Africa and the dunes on Cape Horn, rivers breaking through tall mountain passes, the scars of humanity, the continuous line of life extending from North America, through Central America and into South America, a crescent moon setting over the limb of our blue planet. Mount Fuji looks life a small bump from up here, but it does stand out as a very distinct landmark.
"Magically, the very first day we flew over Lake Michigan and I saw Wind Point (Wisconsin) clearly. Haven't been so lucky since. Every orbit we go over a slightly different part of the Earth. Of course, much of the time I'm working back in Spacehab and don't see any of it. Whenever I do get to look out, it is glorious. Even the stars have a special brightness.

from The Sun Monday Feb 3rd

6-min ordeal

THE crew knew they were in trouble at least SIX MINUTES before the blast.
Flight data recorded at Mission Control revealed shuttle warning lights would have flashed as faults developed — but the astronauts would have been powerless to avert disaster.
They were due to land at 9.16am.
But at 8.53 temperature sensors began to fail.
At 08.59 tyre sensors suddenly reported no data.
Shuttle programme manager Ron Dittemore said: “That’s when we began to know we had a bad day.”
Mission control radioed: “Columbia, Houston. We see your tyre-pressure messages. We did not copy your last.”
Columbia’s commander Rick Husband responded: “Roger, uh, buh ...”
An instant later communications failed. Within the next minute the shuttle exploded.
Experts believe although the crew knew they were in trouble, they would NOT have known it was about to blow up.
David Shayler, not connected to the renegade spy of that name, said: “The astronauts are in a protected module, but the G-forces and temperatures involved mean they would have been unconscious very early on.
“As bits of the shuttle broke off they could have protected the bodies from being vapourised.”


'Columbia Is Lost'
Shuttle Disintegrates on Reentry, Killing 7 Aboard

By Michael Grunwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 2, 2003; Page A01

The space shuttle Columbia, returning to Earth after a 16-day scientific journey through space, disintegrated yesterday morning high above the central Texas plains, killing seven astronauts who had dedicated their lives to exploring the heavens.
"The Columbia is lost," President Bush told the nation. "There are no survivors."
The Columbia, the oldest shuttle in the U.S. fleet, was streaking through the sky at 12,500 mph when it burst into flames about 9 a.m., shortly after reentering Earth's atmosphere. The crew of six Americans and the first Israeli astronaut -- Ilan Ramon, who had carried a Holocaust survivor's miniature Torah scroll into space -- was scheduled to land in Florida about 15 minutes later.
It was not clear last night what caused the Columbia's demise so close to home, but with the world bracing for war in Iraq -- and with terrorism fears heightened by the presence of the first Israeli in space -- U.S. officials said they saw nothing to suggest foul play. There were a few possible indications of mechanical trouble from shuttle sensors in the minutes before the disaster, but the mission director said the Columbia was still "flying with no problems at that time," 39 miles above Earth. Then there was a tremendous bang and a burst of light, before the plume of white smoke trailing the shuttle thickened, fractured and melted away.
It was 17 years ago that the space shuttle Challenger exploded with six astronauts and the schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe on board Jan. 28, 1986, and yesterday's tragedy immediately provoked more soul-searching about the U.S. space program. Some experts had warned in recent years that the shuttle program was a disaster waiting to happen, and NASA yesterday launched an investigation and put the shuttle program on hold. But Bush vowed that "our journey into space will go on," and NASA's Bill Readdy said the victims' grieving families want that as well.
"They knew that the crew was absolutely dedicated to the mission that they were performing," said Readdy, a former shuttle commander who is now NASA's deputy administrator for space flight. "They said that we must find what happened and fix it and move on. We can't let their sacrifice be in vain."
This was the Columbia's 28th mission -- its first, in 1981, launched the space shuttle program -- and it had already been hailed as a scientific success. The crew had worked on more than 80 microgravity experiments designed to help treat prostate cancer, predict earthquakes, suppress fires and develop new products ranging from paints to perfumes. They had studied the effects of weightlessness on spiders, fish and silkworms in experiments designed by students in Melbourne, Beijing and Tokyo. They also studied themselves, swallowing calcium tracers and drawing their blood to help track bone loss and protein production in space.
Ramon had put together a high-tech project to observe a dust plume over the Mediterranean, and then used a camera to snap rare photographs of lightning phenomena known as "sprites" and "elves." In a news conference from orbit on Wednesday, payload commander Michael P. Anderson declared that "the science we're doing here is great and fantastic."
The mission had encountered one glitch during liftoff, when a chunk of insulating foam from the external fuel tank detached and apparently struck the shuttle's left wing. NASA officials had pronounced the damage insignificant, but yesterday, after the first signs of trouble came when sensors on that same wing stopped transmitting data, investigators said the issue would be studied closely. Flight controllers also noticed a minor electrical current spike in a water distribution system a few days into the mission, and later shut down an identical system after it sprung a leak, but there were no indications that the problems were serious.
Even the final radio transmissions to and from the shuttle suggested possible concern but no imminent danger. "We see your tire pressure messages and we did not copy your last," said Mission Control in Houston. Mission commander Rick D. Husband calmly replied: "Roger," but then his transmission cut off in mid-word. There was silence, and then static.
"We will not fly again until we have this understood," shuttle chief Ron Dittemore said at a news briefing in Houston. "Somewhere along the line we missed something."


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