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This week marks the anniversaries of two tragedies in the U.S. space shuttle program.

On Jan. 28, 1986—33 years ago today—The NASA Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart just 73 seconds after liftoff. The O-ring seals couldn't handle the low temperature on the day of the launch, and that led to a series of equipment failures.

Seven astronauts were killed, including Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire teacher whose presence on the mission attracted national attention. The others who perished were mission commander Lt. Col. Francis R. Scobee, pilot Capt. Michael J. Smith, mission specialists Ronald McNair, Col. Ellison Onizuka and Judith Resnik and payload specialist Capt. Gregory Jarvis.

The tragedy shook the nation. Seventeen years later there would be another shock.

Space Shuttle Columbia was the oldest shuttle in NASA's fleet. It had been the first shuttle launched and had since completed more than 25 missions.

On Jan. 16, 2003, Columbia launched with Col. Rick D. Husband as commander. The pilot was Cdr. William C. McCool. Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson was payload commander.

Israeli Air Force Col. Ilan Ramon served as payload specialist. Kalpana Chawla, Capt. David M. Brown and Capt. Laurel Clark were mission specialists.

On Jan 16, 2003, the shuttle took off from Kennedy Space Center. During liftoff, a piece of insulating foam broke away from the external propellant tank and struck Columbia's left wing.

Foam falling off during launch was nothing new. NASA even had a term for it—"foam shedding."

But this time was different. The foam had caused a small hole in Columbia's left wing.

On Feb. 1, 2003—16 years ago this week—Columbia was re-entering the Earth's atmosphere over East Texas when hot gases were able to enter the wing through a small hole created by the foam. The gases destroyed the wing structure—and caused the shuttle to break up in the sky.

All the astronauts were killed. Debris was scattered across East Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Many in our area participated in the search for debris. And many more remember that sad day.

Our search for knowledge and exploration of the unknown sometimes brings peril. The brave men and women of Challenger and Columbia believed the risk was worth it. The best way to honor their sacrifice is to keep the quest going.

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