• Kyodo

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Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata told a news conference Friday at the Johnson Space Center that he still finds the midair breakup of the space shuttle Columbia earlier this month hard to believe.

“I still cannot believe those colleagues I took part in training together with are dead. I’ve since felt each day lasts longer than before,” said Wakata.

Wakata participated in training on the ground with the seven deceased astronauts and shared training flights with them.

“Everything is done to ensure the safety of shuttles. An accident could stem from a cause unknown to us, but it could serve as a lesson for us to move further and to further ensure safety,” Wakata said. He added that the best thing to do from this point is to promote space development in line with the wishes of the seven.

Soichi Noguchi, another Japanese astronaut, was scheduled to board the shuttle Atlantis in March. Wakata said Noguchi still appeared shocked about the deaths of his colleagues.

Columbia disintegrated on Feb. 1 over Texas shortly before it was due to land, killing all seven crew members on board.

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