The families of Columbia's crew urged the nation Monday to go beyond their grief and pursue "the bold exploration of space" to improve life on Earth for future generations.
The families had a private meeting Sunday, a day after Columbia disintegrated as it prepared to land following a 16-day science mission.
"They are doing remarkably well," Evelyn Husband, wife of Cmdr. Rick Husband, told NBC's "Today" show Monday. "We've gotten strength from each other, and it was great to see them yesterday. We just cried and laughed and hugged each other, and it was very helpful."
She read a statement from the families.
"On January 16th we saw our loved ones launch into a brilliant, cloud-free sky. Their hearts were full of enthusiasm, pride in country, faith in their God and a willingness to accept risk in the pursuit of knowledge - knowledge that might improve the quality of life for all mankind.
"Although we grieve deeply, as do the families of Apollo I and Challenger before us, the bold exploration of space must go on. Once the root cause of this tragedy is found and corrected, the legacy of Columbia must carry on for the benefit of our children and yours."
In their hometowns, the astronauts were remembered in a variety of ways: All-American. Hero. Big sister.
In Spokane, Wash., Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson was mourned at the small Baptist church where he worshipped as a child and where his parents still attend.
"He was a young man who would always think deep," the Rev. Freeman Simmons said of the man who would later become one of only a handful of black astronauts. "He never said much. ... He would listen to what I said, especially scientific things."
In her final days on Columbia, Laurel Clark of Racine, Wis., looked at the Earth and told friends and family in an e-mail that the planet is magnificent and her perspective "truly awe-inspiring."
The Rev. Tony Larsen, wearing a tie decorated with the planets, read the e-mail to the congregation at Clark's hometown church, Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist.
"She was my big sister," said her brother, Dan Salton, who wore a space shuttle pin and quietly wept during the service. "Heroes to me are something other, something big. All of them are heroes. They were serving humanity."
Col. Husband graduated from Texas Tech in Lubbock, and never lost his fondness for the school.
"If you just wanted an All-American boy, that was Rick," Dr. James Lawrence, an engineering professor who taught Husband.
"He was just a wonderful guy," added Dr. Thomas Burton, director of the engineering department. "He was famous around here, regarded as a hero, but he never let it affect him. He was always low-key and unassuming."
Cmdr. Willie McCool also lived in Lubbock, moving to the city in west Texas when he was in junior high. He became known as "Cool Willie" at Lubbock Coronado High School.
"He was my committee of one," Ed Jarman, 81, McCool's former science teacher at Coronado, told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "Anytime there was anything that needed doing, Willie was there to do it."
Anderson would accompany his father to Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane and showed "a strong desire that he wanted to fly," Simmons said.
"He didn't know he was going to be an astronaut," Simmons said. "Michael was born for that. ... He had the characteristics of an eagle."
Anderson was aware of the dangers that faced him in space, Simmons said.
"He told me, 'Don't worry about me,"' the pastor said. "'I'm not coming back here. I'm just going higher."'
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