WASHINGTON — Within minutes of the most devastating terrorist attacks perpetrated on U.S. soil, the smoke from the resulting fires was visible from the international space station orbiting some 400 kilometers above Earth.
“As we went over Maine, we could see New York City and the smoke from the fires,” Frank Culbertsoru, the space station’s current crew commander, told engineers in NASA’ss Mission Control Center in Houston, “Our prayers and thoughts go out to all the people there and everywhere else.”
Here on Earth, the magnitude of the tragedy was only beginning to sink in. Thousands perished in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack that leveled the World Trade Center in New York, punched a hole in Pentagon and obliterated the four commercial airliners used to pull off the deadly aerial assault. Among the dead were an undetermined number of men and women who made their living in the aerospace industry.
Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co. all reported losing personnel aboard the hijacked flights. A Northop Grumman Information Systems Sector employee assigned to the Pentagon was among personnel missing following the attack there.
As heightened security measures were implemented at government buildings here and throughout the United States, NASA, like all other federal agencies, closed its facilities to all except those workers considered critical to continued operations. Aerospace companies with operations located at government facilities could only follow suit, sending their employees home for the day Sept. 11 and reopening the next day under tighter security.
The attacks also disrupted business plans unrelated to federal contracting. XM Satellite Radio Inc., for example, canceled long-awaited plans to begin commercial radio broadcasting operations in two U.S. cities Sept. 12. XM had scheduled daylong events in Washington, where it is based, as well as in San Diego and Dallas, its two initial markets. ln a statement posted on the company’s World Wide Web site, XM officials only said they were postponing the service launch. They did not say when they would begin service, or whether they still intend to roll out the nationwide service in November.
Meanwhile, XM competitor Sirius Satellite Radio Inc.. located in midtown Manhattan about 40 blocks from the World Trade Center, closed after the attacks but reopened Sept. 13. The company’s location, high in a midtown skyscraper, afforded Sirius employees a clear view of the devastation. Sirius plans to inaugurate its service later this year.
Members of the U.S. Congress and their staffs returned to work Sept. 12, but the often rancorous partisanship that had been building over the federal budget was quiet. Lawmakers of all stripes expressed unity and solidarity with President George W Bush and pledged swift passage of an emergency spending measure aimed at rebuilding and securing the nation. Space was not on the radar screen. Thirteen unfinished annual spending bills, Congress’s top priority just two days before, were temporarily forgotten.
NASA headquarters here also reopened for business Sept. 12, but the agency’s 10 field centers remained closed to all but essential personnel, reopening Sept. 13 under tighter security precautions that included limiting access to badged employees and contractors, searching vehicles and inspecting packages.
Headquarters employees returning to work encountered similar security measures — in addition to the military personnel and barricades that now dot the streets of downtown Washington. NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin offered a message of consolation and encouragement to the agency’s 18,000 employees during an all-hands assembly carried live on NASA TV Sept. 13. “Throughout these terrible days, NASA’s work has continued,” Goldin said. “The international space station is still in orbit, research continues, telescopes continue to send us remarkable data. The public is genuinely concerned about keeping our launch vehicles and facilities safe. We will continue to refine and strengthen security measures at all NASA installations and we will continue our important work.”
One space launch was postponed, innumerable meetings were canceled, and people were stranded at airports across the country. NASA alone had about 1,000 employees on travel when U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta closed the nation’s airports following the attacks, according to NASA news chief Bob Jacobs. Among those stranded were members of the International Space Station Management and Cost Evaluation Task Force, who were en route to Houston to debrief space station personnel at NASAs Johnson Space Center there. The task force’s activities were postponed and are expected to be rescheduled for later this month.
At press time, the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, planned to go ahead with a Sept. 14 launch (Eastern Time) of the Pirs docking compartment bound for the intemational space station.
But an Athena rocket launch of four U.S. Air Force and NASA payloads, which had been slated for Sept. 16 from Kodiak Island in Alaska was postponed until Sept. 21, according to Evan McCollum, a spokesman for Athena builder Lockheed Martin. With U.S. air travel disrupted because of the attack, getting Athena personnel to Alaska in time for a Sept. 16 launch appeared a logistic impossibility, he said. No other U.S. satellite launches are expected to be delayed as a result of the attack, according to U.S. government and industry officials. A Taurus rocket is slated to loft a commercial imaging satellite and a NASA environmental satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Sept. 21. NASA spokesman Gary Caruso said as a result of tight security measures in effect at U.S. military installations, the launch is not open to invited spectators as usual.
An Atlas rocket is scheduled to loft a U.S. spy satellite from Cape Canaveral, Fla, Oct. 10, and a Delta rocket is slated to loft, a commercial imaging satellite from Vandenberg Oct. 18. Two Minuteman ICBM test launches that were scheduled for Sept. 14 from Vandenberg have been postponed, according to Air Force Staff Sgt. Rebecca Bonilla, a service spokeswoman. The launches have not been rescheduled.
On the conference front, the Air Force Association canceled its national convention that was to be held here Sept. 16-19. The Colorado Springs, Colo.-based U.S. Space Foundation issued an e-mail bulletin Sept. 14 vowing not to postpone its International Space Symposium Oct. 29-31 here. “Now, more than ever, we must stand United,” the message said. “And we will.”
Space News Staff Writer Jason Bates contributed to this story from Salt Lake City. Staff Writers Sam Silverstein and Jeremy Singer contributed from Washington.