THE COLUMBIA TRAGEDY
The crew of the Columbia:
From the left: David Brown, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla,
Michael Anderson, William McCool and Ilan Ramon
Thoughts bearing some relationship to the tragedy:
"No one can destroy the imperishable spirit."
Bhagavad-Gita, Chapter 2 (Hindu holy text)
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every
purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die..."
Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, (Hebrew Scriptures)
"There are people whose radiance illuminates their
When they themselves are no longer in our midst;
These lights that cause the darkest night to shine;
They -- they light the way for humanity." Cantor Janice Roger,
Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation. 1
"In an era of darkness and terror, you gave us hope. In a
decade of uncertainty you lit a path to the future. Godspeed to NASA and the
crew of Columbia." Jason Rhian, posting to a memorial page of
Seven brave astronauts on the Columbia space shuttle died on Saturday,
2003-FEB-1 at about 8:59 CT, as their craft re-entered the earth's atmosphere.
The tragedy captured the attention of the world. It stopped future shuttle
flights until 2005-JUL while experts found ways of preventing a recurrence.
A little known factor in the crew makeup was the extreme diversity of their
spiritual paths. In alphabetic order, they were:
||Michael Anderson was a conservative Christian,
a member of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Spokane WA
who also attended Grace Community Church in Clear Lake, TX.
He had once said that his ultimate destination is Heaven. He said:
"Don't worry if I'm not coming back. I'm just going higher." One of
his parents commented: "I can feel sure that, by him being a Christian
man, he is in a better place than where he would be on Earth."
The implication is that most of the rest of the crew -- the five who were not
conservative Christians -- would be in
Hell rather than Heaven. 2
||David Brown was a Christian Episcopalian, an acolyte at his parish in
Arlington, VA. An acolyte is a lay volunteer who helps in some ceremonial
duties. Rev. Jennings Hobson of Trinity Episcopal Church recalled a
presentation that Brown had given to the church's men's group. "He made a
wonderful presentation. I saw a truly happy, passionate caring person."
||Kalpana Chawla was a Hindu whose
ancestors were Sikhs. She attended Hindu temples
in California and Texas. She arranged tours for some children of
Northern India near her birthplace to come to the U.S. and see some aspects
of the space program. An integral part of the Hindu faith is the belief in
Transmigration of the Soul: that after death one returns to earth in
the body of a human or other animal to
live out another lifetime.
||Laurel Clark was a Unitarian Universalist,
an active member of Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church in
Racine WI. A reporter for the Journal Sentinel newspaper (Milwaukee WI)
commented: "To many, Clark embodied the ideals of the Unitarian
Universalist faith, a religion that welcomes all beliefs and spiritual
traditions and emphasizes peace and social justice. They pointed to the
diversity of those who served on the Columbia mission and her hopes that
the scientific experiments that were conducted onboard would benefit the
whole of mankind." 3
||Rick Husband was a Charismatic Christian, an
active member of the Grace Community Church in Clear Lake, TX -- a
charismatic congregation. He had brought objects with him on the flight
which he had hoped to deliver later to a Christian children's home near Amarillo,
TX, to James Dobson's Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, CO,
and to Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia
||William McCool was raised a Methodist but converted to
Catholicism as an adult. He was an outstanding athlete and student, a
gifted flier, and a deeply committed Christian. On FEB-2, Rev. Chris
Kulig of St. Bernadette Roman Catholic Church in Houston TX
described McCool and his fellow crew members as men and women who "did
not let the fear of death prevent them from achieving."
||Ilan Ramon was an observant Jew, from Israel -- the only
non-American on the crew. He was the son of a Holocaust survivor. He took
several Holocaust objects on the flight: a Torah which had been used at a
Bar Mitzvah ceremony in a Nazi concentration camp, and a drawing titled
"Moon Landing" by a 14 year old boy who had died at Auschwitz.
What might the astronauts have anticipated after life?
Although it is not possible to find out the precise understanding that
each astronaut had about life after death, their
faith groups taught a range of beliefs, including
Heaven, Hell, Purgatory,
Transmigration of the Soul, and annihilation of the personality:
||Conservative Christianity generally teaches that those who are
saved by repenting of their sins and accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior
will attain heaven after death. In contrast, the unsaved -- including most
of the Shuttle's crew -- will spend
eternity in Hell. In the past, conservative Christians have viewed Hell as place of eternal,
horrendous pain. Many conservative denominations are transitioning to a
belief in Hell as a place or state of isolation from God.
||The Episcopal church is one of the more liberal Christian
denominations. Their members generally view neither Heaven nor Hell as
physical places. Rather, heaven is a relationship with God, and Hell is
alienation from God. 4 The Episcopal Catechism states: "By
heaven, we mean eternal life in our enjoyment of God; by hell, we mean
eternal death in our rejection of God." 5
||Hindus believe in
the repetitious Transmigration of the Soul. This is the transfer of
one's soul after death into another body. This is one step in samsara,
a continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth through many
lifetimes. Through pure acts, thoughts and devotion, one can be
reborn at a higher level. Eventually, one can escape samsara and achieve
enlightenment. Bad deeds can cause a person to be reborn as a lower level,
or even as an animal.
||Unitarian Universalists are essentially unique among organized
Western religions. They do not have a formal belief systems to which their
membership must agree. Rather they look upon their organization's role as
providing some of the tools by which their members can develop their own
evolving spiritual path. Most Unitarians are
Humanists. As such they have no expectation of one's personality
continuing in any form after death.
||Roman Catholicism teaches that almost everyone goes either to
Hell or Purgatory after death.
A very few will go directly to Heaven. Most of those whose major sins have
been forgiven through church ritual will go to
for a process of cleansing after death; later, they will be allowed into
Heaven. Most of the rest will go directly to punishment in Hell, which is
considered a place and a state of existence. The church teaches that
religions other than Christianity are considered to be "gravely
deficient." Their rituals can constitute "an obstacle to salvation"
for their followers. More details.
||Most traditions within Judaism has no precise view of life after death. However, Jews
believe that one's influences do continue after we die. "Judaism
teaches us that our soul lives on through the memories of people who knew
and loved us. Every life well-lived lives on for blessing." 2
The seven crew members had five conflicting expectations of what their
future would be like after death. Only one
-- or perhaps none -- of the five scenarios is correct. Of course, it could
be possible that the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein is correct. In a
novel, he suggested that
people are given exactly the form of life after death that they believe in.
They are in Hell, according to The Space Shuttle Columbia Gospel Memorial:
According to Bart McQueary, a conservative Christian, the entire crew of
the Columbia are currently suffering in Hell. 7 He reasoned that because
they did not use their position to advocate for major change in American
culture to return to biblical principles, they were destined to go to Hell.
He writes in an essay on his web site: "Those seven have a duty to
declare 'It is not right what this nation has become. We can no longer stand
silently by while our President sends a blatant homosexual to Romania and
his lover as our ambassador. I cannot be silent while we appoint a
homosexual to screen all Pentagon job applicants. We do not condone allowing
out of the closet, in your face, homosexuals to serve in the military. We
oppose this and although we work for the United States, we do not agree with
our governments actions on this matter. It is in contradiction to God's Law.
Thank you'....Therefore, these seven are in Hell. All the candlelight vigils
and Supreme Court decisions cannot change that. It cannot get them one day
taken off their sentences or buy them a drop of water to cool their tongue."
The tragedy was is a Jewish plot, etc:
The ADL (Anti-Defamation League) quoted a number of comments by
conservative Muslims who interpreted the disaster along religious lines.
They appeared to focus their attention on the sole Jewish member of the
crew, Colonel Ilan Ramon -- a son of Holocaust survivors:
||Dr. Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Rantisi, a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, is
reported as saying: "The explosion of the shuttle Columbia is, it is
reasonable to assume, part of the divine punishment of America and,
together with it, Zionism - because of their massacres of Muslims, the
destruction of their lives, the humiliation of their honor, and their
desire to globalize corruption..."
||Hamed Salamin, a columnist for the UAE daily Al-Bayan, allegedly
wrote: "An atmosphere of sadness and shock overcame the Israelis two
days ago when NASA announced [Ramon's] death… This is enough to arouse joy
in every heart that beats Arabism and Islam....Perhaps the sight of the
Columbia shuttle's crashing in the town of Palestine, Texas reminds the
Israeli people of the daily tragedy of the Palestinians - of the sorrow,
the blood, and the massacres that the army of the [Zionist] entity carries
out on the occupied lands. But it would not appear that the vast majority
of Israelis have feelings for others… The Columbia disaster is a loss to
all, even though emotions are conflicting. Sincerest condolences to the
American people and to the families of the six American astronauts, and
Ramon should go to hell. There is no sorrow for him whatsoever."
||Abu Hamza Al-Masri, an Islamic fundamentalist leader, was interviewed
by Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, a London Arabic-language daily newspaper. He
is quoted as saying: "It is a punishment from Allah - this is how
Muslims see the incident. The target of this event was the trinity of
evil, as the shuttle carried Americans, an Israeli, and a Hindu, the
trinity of evil against Islam. This is a message to the American people
that Bush's term is nothing but a string of curses cast upon them, and
that it will lead to the exhaustion of their resources and the elimination
of the false American dream....This is a divine message to the Israelis,
saying that they are not welcome in space." 8
Michele McNeil Solida & Tim Evans, "Faithful lift Columbia in prayer," Indianapolis Star, 2003-FEB-3,
"In memory: Remembering the crew of the space shuttle Columbia,"
"Seven Heroes, seven faiths," Toronto Star, Toronto ON, 2003-FEB-9,
Pages F6 & F7. Extracted from an essay on Beliefnet at:
"What do you believe happens after death?," Episcopal Life forum,
"The Book of Common Prayer" of the Episcopal Church (pages
845-862), as quoted in "An Outline of the Faith," at:
"In memory: Remembering the crew of the space shuttle Columbia,"
Bart McQueary, "The Space Shuttle Columbia Gospel Memorial," God
Hates Harrodsburg, at:
"Conspiracy and Columbia," ADL, at:
Copyright © 2003 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2003-FEB-12
Latest update: 2005-SEP-19
Author: B.A. Robinson