NASA Reflects On September 11
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and astronaut Frank L. Culbertson were among those from the U.S. space agency who paused to remember the events of September 11, 2001 on Friday.
Culbertson, who at the time of the terrorist attacks was the only American serving on board the International Space Station (ISS), recalled seeing the events transpire from orbit. [ View the Video ]
“I didn’t know exactly what was happening but I knew it was really bad because there was a big cloud of debris covering Manhattan,” he said, adding that it was “painful…like seeing a wound in the side of your country, of your family, your friends.”
Culbertson also shared a story of an encounter with a veteran during a tour of Williamsburg. The individual had lost the use of one arm, and both of his legs, during his military service, but Culbertson noted that he was very interested once he learned about how Culbertson was the commander of the ISS.
“The first thing he said to me is that’s one of the best things we’re doing. We have to work together internationally or we’ll never solve all of these problems,” he said. “The young men and women that are putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan and Iraq and other places around the world to ensure that this doesn’t happen again and help keep us free are the real heroes here.”
“I think it’s important for people to continue to learn the lessons from this and make sure we are in fact making ourselves a better country as a result of it, not regressing or turning inward or changing ourselves into a society that we won’t be proud to pass onto our granchildren and great-grandchildren,” Culbertson added.
Bolden posted a written message in remembrance of the tenth anniversary of the attacks.
“On this solemn occasion, we pause to remember the lives of those we lost that tragic day, and to offer comfort to the families they left behind,” he wrote. “America’s first responders and many ordinary people became heroes on 9/11 and our government has continued since to take the steps that have kept our nation safe.”
“More than two million of our troops have served in war zones,” Bolden added. “These brave volunteers are protecting our nation beyond its borders and preventing threats before they can reach our shores. They have upheld the virtues of service, sacrifice, and selflessness that have always been the source of America´s strength. As the beneficiaries of their service, we have a sacred duty to support all of our troops, military families and veterans.”
The NASA administrator addressed Culbertson’s unique status as the only American not on the planet on that fateful day. Photos that Culbertson took, Boldin said, “are an historic reminder that this small dot in the universe still has big challenges to overcome.”
“Frank Culbertson returned to a different world than that from which he launched. But all of the space station’s international crews have demonstrated how space exploration can bring our world together, erase borders and improve the lives of people across the world,” he continued.
“We will never forget 9/11, but we are nevertheless optimistic about the future. It is a bright future for the kind of cooperative exploration that will inspire humanity and lift our thoughts to the higher potential of which we are capable.”
“NASA,” Boldin concluded, “is uniquely positioned to continue building bridges in a global enterprise that helps us uncover the secrets of our planet and the universe and brings scientists, engineers and explorers from all walks of life together no matter their race, religion, national origin or background. This is the legacy not only of the ISS, it is a path that we are pursuing for the future.”
Image 1: A smoke plume rises from lower Manhattan in this photo by Expedition 3 Commander Frank Culbertson on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Image Credit: NASA
Image 2: NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of a large plume of smoke streaming southward from the remnants of the burning World Trade Center. Image Credit: Liam Gumley, MODIS Atmosphere Group, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison
Image 3: Smoke can still be seen at the site at around 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 12, in this image from the Landsat 7 satellite. Image credit: USGS Landsat 7 team, at the EROS Data Center
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