The Rev. Charles Wildman is a believer of signs, and for him the loss of the space shuttle was clearly a sign.
Of mortality. Of fallibility. And at a time of looming war, of America's vulnerability.
''It was a wakeup call,'' Mr. Wildman said as he prepared to walk into a Sunday school class and broach the topic with a group of sixth graders. ''We're not perfect. Bad things happen to us. Now I'm hearing a lot of people say if we go to war, we're going to endanger a lot more than seven lives.''
It is not that the two issues are directly related or that the shuttle loss has shifted attitudes for or against war in Iraq.
''I'm for war in Iraq if it's for the right reasons,'' said Sarah Gleim, a magazine editor in Marietta, Ga. ''This didn't change my perspective at all. It just made me sad.''
But for some this weekend, at restaurants, in living rooms and in chats over the phone, the two topics became intertwined for a moment as people mulled risk, vulnerability and unexpected death as the nation was girding for war.
''What happened yesterday further reinforces my belief that we should find diplomatic solutions instead of threatening other countries with invasion,'' Jason Rapps, an engineer with Motorola, said as he left a supermarket in Coral Springs, Fla.
''The loss of the space shuttle should at the very least make us stop and think about thrusting ourselves into a conflict that will only make world relations worse, not better,'' Mr. Rapps said.
For others, any idea that America is invincible vanished on Saturday when all the resources and science invested in the shuttle program could not save seven astronauts from death as their craft hurtled toward Earth.
''I was thinking about the people in the space shuttle and how they were all talking about coming home,'' said Betty Jones, as she ate breakfast at the Eggshell Restaurant in Arvada, Colo. ''Now they are not coming home. And all those people are getting ready to go to war and also putting their lives at risk. I think it's just what life is all about, risk.''
Others said the accident should bring new resolve. In Racine, Wis., outside William Horlick High School, where one of the astronauts, Cmdr. Laurel Salton Clark, had gone to school, Debbi Hart said she thought the tragedy would make the country pull together. ''Tragedy brings out patriotism,'' Ms. Hart said. ''It really does make a nation of one.''
In Baton Rouge, La., Darren Gauthier, 31, said the United States had to go to war with Iraq. ''It's got to be done,'' said Mr. Gauthier, a political consultant who works primarily with Republican candidates. ''It's unfinished business, and this Columbia tragedy puts things in perspective about how life is precious, which should make us more encouraged to go to Iraq, remove this dictator and improve the lot of the lives of the people of that country.''
He added: ''These people can't have a space program. Their scientists are about making weapons of mass destruction. They can't dare to dream.''
Some people said the shuttle disaster would bring humility.
''So many Americans are delusional,'' said Jad Dumbrell, a landscaper in Falls Church, Va. ''They think they are invincible. It's horrible what happened to the space shuttle. But maybe in the end, by reminding people in this country they are not all-powerful, it will do more good.''
The idea of serving and dying for your country was another idea the shuttle loss caused people to ponder. The statement from Iraqi officials that the accident was ''God's retribution'' turned a few doves into hawks, at least for a moment.
''That really made me angry,'' said Kathryn Bedette, an architect in Decatur, Ga. ''For a little while, I was actually in favor of war with Iraq.''
In the end, though, people stuck to their positions on war and moved on.
who support war are not going to see the shuttle disaster as any
deterrent because the reason for war is totally separate,'' Beverly
Farrier said as she sipped coffee with friends at a cafe in Laguna
Beach, Calif. ''I think people will pause to reflect on the disaster,
but I don't think it's going to change their opinion.''