"The conquest of space is worth the risk of life," and must continue despite the deaths of the seven Columbia astronauts, the director of NASA's Kennedy Space Center said at a memorial service Saturday.

Roy Bridges spoke to more than 100 officials from NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency at Barksdale Air Force Base, where debris from the shuttle and the human remains found across Texas and Louisiana are being stored for investigators.

The service was meant to both remember the astronauts and to thank Barksdale officials for assisting the recovery effort.

Inside the base's nondenominational chapel, the altar was surrounded by pictures of the shuttle and the astronauts who died Feb. 1 when Columbia broke up high over Texas: Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, Rick Husband, William McCool and Ilan Ramon.

They "were relatively unknown during their lifetimes. Now they are heroes for all time," Bridges said.

He vowed that NASA would find the cause of Columbia's destruction and make sure such a disaster never happens again.

"Let's get past our grieving and get back into space," he said.

In a huge B-52 bomber hanger at the base, bagged pieces of shuttle debris await shipment to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It is there that investigators will begin reconstructing the shuttle for clues to what went wrong.

NASA spokesman Paul Foreman said Saturday that Kennedy would be ready to receive the debris as early as Wednesday.

The astronauts were also remembered Saturday at a memorial in Lufkin, Texas, an area where hundreds of pieces of shuttle debris have been found.