It is highly unlikely, given the extremely high altitude and speed of the Space Shuttle Columbia when it broke apart over Texas, that terrorism was involved.
But that's not to say that NASA hasn't been targeted by terrorists, as first reported in this column in the days after Sept. 11, 2001. Our source happened to be Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), who has since announced his candidacy for president.
Edwards noted that most Americans caught up in the grave aftermath of Sept. 11 never realized that only a few days later a Pakistani group hacked into two of the U.S. government's Web services, declaring "cyber-jihad" against the United States.
A subsequent series of attacks, dubbed "Moonlight Maze," were directed at the Pentagon, Energy Department, and NASA, resulting in the theft of vast quantities of technical defense research, the senator said.
"Our enemies are already targeting our networks," said Edwards, who sits on the subcommittee on international security. "We now live in a world where a terrorist can do as much damage with a keyboard and a modem as with a gun or a bomb."
On top of that, he said, cyber-terrorists realize that with the push of a button, emergency services - police, fire and ambulances - can be paralyzed, power for cities shut down for extended periods, telephone lines disrupted and water supplies poisoned.
MISERY LOVES COMPANY
On Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe found himself all but alone when laying an anniversary wreath at the memorial for the Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded upon liftoff Jan. 28, 1986, killing all seven crew members.
Unfortunately for our brave astronauts, space shuttle missions have become all too common, virtually ignored by the media, until something goes terribly wrong.
Had Columbia traveled the final 16 minutes of its 16-day mission, few of us would have ever known about the incredible lives and accomplishments of commander Rick D. Husband, pilot William C. McCool, payload commander Michael P. Anderson, and fellow astronauts David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel B. Clark and Ilan Ramon.
And what wonderful life stories they turned out to be.
For that, we should all feel ashamed.
"How much time do we have?" asked Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), this time, for once not referring to the allotted time a senator is allowed to speak on the floor of the U.S. Capitol.
"Every minute we wait, Saddam Hussein's efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction and to share them continue. Every minute we wait, the surviving al Qaeda terrorists plot their next attack. We fear it may be a weapon of mass destruction, particularly chemical and biological attack.
"Sooner or later," the senator warned, "either here or somewhere else in the world, we will run out of time. We ran out of time in New York, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon on Sept. 11. Brave sailors on the USS Cole ran out of time. Our two embassies in Africa ran out of time in 1998. Over 200 innocent victims, mostly Australians, ran out of time in a Bali, Indonesia, night club.
"How many more attacks must we absorb before we realize that time is not on our side?"
In January 1990, Republican Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Richard C. Shelby of Alabama had a rare opportunity to meet - for more than an hour - with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Specter's take on today's impasse with the Iraqi leader?
"Although he is brutal ... and is venal, I think it may be accurate to say he is not suicidal," says the senator. "I believe that if he sees the noose around him, perhaps there is some opportunity he may step aside or that the military or others in Iraq may take action to dislodge him from a leadership position."
The Senate has passed a $3.1 billion disaster assistance package to aid Midwesterners affected by the worst drought since the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s.
But Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) says $3.1 billion is not nearly enough to cover the losses of farmers and ranchers in his state. So Nelson has given the drought a name, "David," like those attached to other natural disasters, such as hurricanes, which receive immediate emergency federal assistance.
Several senators of late have been seen on Capitol Hill wearing "Drought David" ribbons.
TIME TO FORGIVE?
Edward R. "Ned" Kimmel, as the sole surviving son of the late Navy Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, his name inexorably attached to Dec. 7, 1941, Monday accepted a prestigious award from the Foundation for America, citing the Pearl Harbor commander as an extraordinary American.
"There's a touch of irony in all of this," observed Kimmel, who with his wife, Harriott, traveled from Wilmington, Del., to accept the award on his father's behalf. "We have for decades now been appealing to the U.S. government to take official action exonerating the admiral and his colleague Army Gen. Walter Short from blame for the Pearl Harbor disaster."
Peter Falk, television's rumpled but lovable detective "Columbo," revealed last week that he once applied to be a spy with the Central Intelligence Agency.
"I didn't want to work a 9-to-5 job," Falk told Washington's "Jack Diamond Morning Show" on WRQX-FM, "so what better job to have than being a spy?"
However, before the CIA could get around to offering Falk a possible career as a "spook," he was bit by the acting bug. Instead of tracking down the "bad guys" in some far-off foreign land, he did it for television, a far safer - and more lucrative - environment.
Falk isn't the first Hollywood insider linked of late to the CIA. The film "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" is based on the 1982 biography of former "Gong Show" host Chuck Barris, who claims he moonlighted as a "CIA hit man" while creating such shows as "The Newlywed Game" and "The Dating Game."
While we're on the subject of Hollywood spies, actress Marlene Dietrich during World War II recorded pop songs for the old OSS (Office of Strategic Services), predecessor of the CIA, to be broadcast to German soldiers as American propaganda. Singer Josephine Baker toiled undercover for the French Resistance, while at the same time it was rumored that master chef Julia Child was stirring up more than shrimp etoufee in her skillet.
David Hoppe, most uncommon chief of staff to recently dethroned Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, has stepped down from Capitol Hill after 27 years and myriad milestones.
Among the senators who bid Hoppe a fond farewell was Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who called Lott's aide "one of the most remarkable people I have had the pleasure of meeting in my entire life, one of the most decent ... without ego, without a desire to go out and seek public office, like many of us have done, devot(ing) himself to improving America and to advancing the causes in which he believed by working through elected officials."
Never better demonstrated than in 1997, when through his disabled son, Gregory, Hoppe wielded unprecedented influence on lawmakers and the Clinton White House during legislative overhaul of special-education policy for millions of disabled children.
"Dave, raising that son and living with the (Down syndrome) his son had, had a particular awareness of how to adapt that legislation," McConnell said, "to the needs of not only his son, but a lot of other youngsters who found themselves in the same dilemma."
It was Hoppe who brokered the final agreement between Congress and President Clinton. USA Today immediately dubbed it "Gregory's Law," after the legislation's guiding light.
The Senate voted 98-1 to send the bill to Clinton. Three weeks later, the president invited Hoppe and his family to the White House, where Gregory watched the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act be signed into law.