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Congress stunned by Challenger disaster

By STEVE GERSTEL

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 1986 (UPI) -- The loss of the shuttle Challenger staggered members of Congress Tuesday and brought almost immediate adjournments of Senate and House sessions. The seven who perished were lauded as pioneers who carried America's ''hopes and dreams'' into space.

Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah and Rep. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who went into space on previous shuttle missions, said they would fly again and Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, the first American to orbit earth, lamented, ''I guess I always knew there would be a day like this.''

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There were demands for investigations, a call for a review of the policy that permits civilians in space and criticism of NASA's tight schedule.

But there was general agreement that the accident would not stop the space program nor, in Nelson's words, ''would the seven crew members who perished today ever have wanted that to be contemplated.''

President Reagan, postponing his State of the Union address Tuesday night, said there would be no greater honor to the Challenger crew than to continue space exploration.

The Senate and House recessed as a ''mark of respect'' for the seven fallen astronauts. Prayers were given by chaplains on both sides of Capitol Hill.

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Nelson, D-Fla., who flew this month on the last space shuttle mission, gave a speech on the House floor, his voice straining, and quoted Helen Keller's writing.

'''Life is either a daring adventure or nothing,''' he said. ''As long as man has the thirst for knowledge we will continue to press outward. And in the process there is risk. That risk is taken by each one of us every day and that risk is understood by all the members of a crew who climb into a loaded spaceship.''

''Pioneers have had tragedy before and tragedy will occur again,'' Nelson said. ''This is part of venturing into the unknown.''

Garn, wearing his astronaut pin, near tears and his voice trembling, said, ''I don't know any time that I have been so shocked or so moved since my first wife was killed in a car accident.''

But Garn said, ''I would go again tomorrow.''

Glenn said, ''I guess I always knew there would be a day like this ... We all hoped it could be pushed back forever ... I feel a tremendous personal loss. They were carrying our hopes and dreams.''

Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., called for suspension of the shuttle flights pending completion of investigations by Congress and NASA, saying that the ''safety of our crews'' is a critical component of the space program.

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Rep. Harold Volkmer, D-Mo., said he had no doubt the space program would continue, though he predicted Congress will review the decisions to allow civilians aboard the shuttles.

Rep. Mervin Dymally, D-Calif., head of the congressional science and technology caucus, said, ''Inevitably this tragedy today will set the program back'' because NASA will have to find close to $2 billion to replace the craft.

He added that NASA seems to be ''too rigid with their schedule. I think they put themselves under too much pressure.''

House Speaker Thomas O'Neill said of the crew members, ''They served our hopes for scientific exploration and human progress. They also served our dreams because they lived at the frontier of what mankind can achieve together.

''Our shock turns to sadness. We salute those who gave their lives to our country at the last great frontier,'' O'Neill said.

Senate Republican leader Robert Dole of Kansas said NASA's ''superb track record has made these launches almost routine, but we are now reminded that the road to the heavens is a dangerous one.''

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., recalled the words of his late brother, President John Kennedy, on America's first manned space flight: '''It will not be one man going to the moon -- it will be an entire nation.'''

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''Seven brave astronauts pursuing that dream were apparently killed today -- and our entire nation has been wounded,'' Kennedy said.

Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., said, ''It makes you realize how small a part of the total universe man is, how man's capacity is limited.''

Rep. Denny Smith, R-Ore., said, ''We often think we are in charge, but the good Lord calls the shots.''

''Death occurs every day of the week,'' said Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, ''but when it occurs before your eyes, it is so much more difficult to accept.''

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