|The University of Texas-Pan American flew the flags at half-staff in front of the Student Services Building in honor of the Columbia astronauts.|
The tragic event in history occurred in the last 16 minutes of the 16-day mission as the spaceship was preparing to land in Florida.
The ceremony honored NASA astronauts Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon.
Carmen Silva, a senior finance student, and classmate Apeksha Advani, a junior finance student, both watched the memorial and fought back tears as they listened to U.S. President George W. Bush and NASA officials pay tribute to the crew, who Bush said were "seven lives of great purpose and achievement."
Advani said she was getting ready for work when she heard the news of the Columbia catastrophe.
"I was pretty shocked because it happened so close to home," Advani said about the tragedy.
Silva and Advani said they made it a point to watch the memorial and pay their respects because it is their duties as Americans.
Even though the tragedy has put future shuttle flights on hold, Advani hopes NASA continues with their exploration of space.
"I don’t think that this should stop their missions because it has benefited us in many ways for many years," she said.
Sam Smith, director of the Student Union said broadcasting the coverage for UTPA students was a good way of honoring the astronauts and taking a moment to realize the impact of this event in history and in the lives of Americans.
"The Student Union is the gathering place, and this is where the community should come," Smith said. "This is where our students come to celebrate, grieve and to discern."
UTPA and NASA have worked together to educate tomorrow’s leaders over the years. Through NASA’s support, UTPA engineering and science students have received scholarships and internship opportunities.
NASA also provided Rio Grande Valley children the opportunity to listen and meet astronauts, scientists, geologists and training specialists who were brought to them during NASA Awareness Day in April 2002 at the UTPA Fieldhouse.
NASA also partnered with UTPA during Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology Week (HESTEC) in October 2002.