My thoughts and prayers are with the Columbia astronauts, families and people who work for NASA. I never thought we would see two Space Shuttles gone. I was home sick the day the Challanger blew up (probably the sickest I have ever been to boot) and so I had tons of feverish nightmares that week. I along with a lot of other kids in the 80's dreamed of being an astronaut, SW was a big part of that dream.
In one of Carl Sagan's books he predicted doom for the shuttle program if another one was destroyed. Space exploration funding is seen as unneccesary (witness the ISS being 20+ years behind schedule due to budget cuts in its program). Risking astronaut lives is deemed to risky and many of the missions could be performed by unmanned craft (see many of the recent Mars successes and failures) for far cheaper costs. Plus public reaction to this disaster may mean even less risk wanted to be taken in tax money.
BTW AE, have you ever been to the rocket museum in Huntsville? I alwys have wanted to go (I fly in to Huntsville when I go to Alabama) but never have gotten the chance