Most of the world today expressed shock, grief and condolences for the loss of the U.S. space shuttle Columbia and its seven-member crew, but some in the Arab world saw the tragedy as an instance of divine justice against the United States and Israel.
Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, sent condolences and offered technical assistance. But while Sunday's launch of a Russian spaceship loaded with food, equipment and fuel for the International Space Station's crew will go ahead as scheduled, Russian space agency officials said the catastrophe may call into question the entire space station project. The shuttles are used to ferry crews and cargo to and from the station, which was first manned in 2000.
"The death of the shuttle and its crew is of course a big blow to the program," said Sergei Gorbunov, a spokesman for the Russian space agency, Rosaviakosmos. "I think the shuttle program will be put on hold for some time."
Official condolences poured in from Western capitals as well. British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote letters to President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon paying tribute to the "courageous" crew of the Columbia, which included the first Israeli in space, air force Col. Ilan Ramon. French President Jacques Chirac expressed in a letter to Bush "the profound emotion and feeling of solidarity in the ordeal that all my compatriots are feeling," and Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada said in a statement: "The seven astronauts on board were accomplished women and men of great courage who put their extraordinary skills and knowledge to the service of humankind. Each one was a hero."
Cuba expressed its condolences and said its flag at the United Nations in New York would be flown at half-staff out of respect for the American people.
But on the streets of Baghdad, where many are braced for U.S. military action, some said the loss of the shuttle and its crew was God's retribution. "We are happy that it broke up," government employee Abdul Jabbar Quraishi told the Reuters news service. "God wants to show that his might is greater than the Americans. They have encroached on our country. God is avenging us."
Noting that among the dead was Ramon, a fighter pilot who participated in a 1981 bombing attack that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor, car mechanic Mohammed Jaber Tamini said: "Israel launched an aggression on us when it raided our nuclear reactor without any reason. Now time has come and God has retaliated to their aggression."
There was no such jubilation in any of the Palestinian territories, Reuters reported. The official response from the Palestinians was one of condolence. "We sympathize with the families of the astronauts," said Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo.
But in the Arab League Cafe in Amman, the capital of Jordan, men sitting over sweet, dark tea, dominos and cards expressed little sympathy. Why should they mourn Americans when the United States says nothing about Iraqi and Palestinian children who are dying, one asked.
"Nothing goes up and nothing comes down unless it's through God's power," said Mahmoud Salim, as he slowly dragged on the honey-flavored tobacco of a water pipe.
When news of the shuttle disaster aired on Jordanian television, one man pointed to the screen and asked if an Israeli was on board.
"God have mercy on them, but if there was an Israeli among them, it was God's response," said the man, Amjad Abu Nawas. "We don't want innocent people to die, but between us and the Jews, there is enmity."
In Kenya, people at Internet cafes and pubs said they were saddened by the news. But they wondered if the accident was a warning to President Bush, telling him to slow down his push for a war in Iraq.
"I think it's a reality check for America and shows that the country makes mistakes, too," said Tom Onyango, 40, a lawyer, who was going out to eat in Nairobi. "It's very sad that those people died, but the Americans have to slow down a bit. They are too eager about everything, and they aren't being careful enough."
Onyango's wife said that she never thought she would see a time when bad things would keep happening to America.
"America is the land of milk and honey," said Dorcas Onyango. "We never thought there would be any problems in America. But now we see they have all the problems that everyone else has. It's sad because we thought they were invincible."
Adam Kubo, 30, an electrical engineer who works part time at an Internet cafe, was watching the news.
"Why do they blow up always?" said Kubo. "One thing I highly doubt is American success in these space issues. I think the Russians are more qualified. We even raise questions about Americans landing on the Moon. We think it actually happened in Hollywood."
In Moscow, Grigori Osipov, the Russian agency's representative at Mission Control in Houston, said the disaster could threaten "the very concept of permanent space systems."
A shuttle was scheduled to carry a new crew to the International Space Station in March to replace the current crew of two Americans -- the commander and engineer -- and a Russian pilot. A Russian Soyuz spaceship, though designed mainly as a rescue vehicle, could be drafted to substitute for shuttle missions. Or the current crew could come home on the Soyuz spaceship now docked at the station, and the station could be left unmanned, Russian space officials said.
In the long run, though, the suspension of the shuttle program endangers the whole project because Russia does not have enough Soyuz or cargo spaceships to take over the shuttles' functions, the officials said. To build more would be "very difficult," said Gorbunov, the space agency spokesman. "Russia is likely to be saddled with the bulk of the workload for the next year or two."
In northern Kuwait, a group of Marines camped by the Iraqi border first heard the news over the radio. "It's a shame, but it's one of those incidents where you'll always remember where you were when you heard the news, like 9/11 and the Challenger," said Capt. David Kulik, 32, of Chicago.
Correspondents Jonathan Finer in Kuwait, Sharon LaFraniere in Moscow, Anthony Shadid in Amman and Emily Wax in Nairobi contributed to this report.