Local reaction to Shuttle loss one of sadness

Special to the Reporter

Local reaction to the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia was one of deep sadness and reminiscence of the Challenger explosion.

As NASA officials gather debris from Texas and its surrounding states, Shelby County residents join the rest of the United States in mourning for those lost, in patiently awaiting answers and in looking to the future of the space program.

Evan Major, superintendent of Shelby County Schools, said he was shocked at the news of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the seven astronauts aboard.

&uot;I was at home having eating breakfast when I heard the news, and I was greatly saddened. I think the space program has been a tremendous program as it has helped our nation develop all kinds of scientific knowledge, technology, medical

knowledge, and certainly I

believe that

the space program

should and will go forward.

&uot;Hopefully

this disaster will lead to more examination and research so that we can improve our safety as we send our astronauts into space. It’s a great program,&uot; he said.

&uot;This is a tragedy that our nation will survive. And my heart goes out to all the family and children, in particular, the spouses of those lost in the flight.&uot;

Bonnie Atchison, executive director of the South Shelby County Chamber of Commerce spoke of how she heard the news.

&uot;Well, I was over in Atlanta, Ga. All of sudden my grandson said, ‘The Columbia &045; they’ve lost the Columbia.’ I said, ‘What do you mean they’ve lost the Columbia?’ He said, ‘It’s gone, the astronauts are gone now.’

&uot;It immediately made me think of the Challenger and where I was the day the Challenger exploded 17 years ago.&uot;

She said she was a teacher coming back from the lunchroom and saw it on TV.

&uot;This (both Challenger and Columbia) was like losing some of my friends, my children. It’s so personal. The loss is so personal, you could think about this like you did Sept. 11… of how losing those people in the Twin Towers of New York … it was a personal loss for all America. This was the same way I felt again seeing this (Columbia disaster) on TV.&uot;

Atchison said she believes the space program must continue.

&uot;I think there is so much to learn from out there (space). I think we’re just scraping the very beginning. I think the space program is so necessary for the youth … our science adventurers from now on. I think it is very important that this continues.&uot;

About what could be learned from Columbia, &uot;It’s another tool like from the other one they learned the ‘O’ rings were not right. This one, they will learn a lesson, too, whether it’s the tiles or whatever. And because of it, they will make space travel, space adventure, space science come alive for us for years to come &045; for our children and grandchildren.&uot;

Shelby County Deputy Tim Billingsley, who serves as a

Columbiana City Councilmember, said he was working that morning on patrol and was eating breakfast at Bernie’s when he saw on TV that NASA had lost communication with the shuttle and soon, footage of the wreckage was shown.

&uot;I was at the wrong place at the wrong time to see all of that,&uot; he said. &uot;I knew this was the time of year the Challenger blew up and wondered why they were showing that again.&uot; But then, he said, he realized &uot;This was another one.&uot;

&uot;First of all, I’m not a rocket scientist by any means … in my opinion of NASA, they’re

the most intelligent

people there are in the U.S., and with the power of the federal government they will get to the last detail of what happened to make it work again,&uot; he said.

He said of the danger, &uot;It’s the nature of the business. They’re riding a bullet to get out of the atmosphere and getting back in. It’s a dangerous game like what I do for a living (sheriff’s deputy), but you just take the risk as being a part of it.&uot;

Should the space program continue?

&uot;Oh most definitely!&uot;

Billingsley said when he was in school he thought space exploration was &uot;the coolest thing. I think it is something we have to continue. And I think it is justified by the risk.

&uot;I just feel for the families and co-workers the way it turned out. I think it is a glorious and honorable

thing they do to make life better for the rest of us,&uot; he said