Area reacts with sadness

Published: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 2:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 12:00 a.m.
Many people in Gainesville learned about the breakup of space shuttle Columbia when they turned on their televisions Saturday morning.
But not Ceasar Ponce, 31, who was working on a construction site at the University of Florida. Ponce had arrived at work about 7 a.m. and didn't learn about the loss until almost noon. Ponce stepped back from his work when he was told about the incident.
"Whatever happens to that is a concern to everybody," he said. Raised in Orlando, he said it reminded him of when he had learned about the Jan. 28, 1986, explosion of space shuttle Challenger. "It's sad to happen again," he said.
Mernie Burdick, 54, a Fort Lauderdale resident in Gainesville with his son, a UF senior, said, "It's an upsetting day for America and the world."
Burdick received a phone call from his daughter, a kindergarten teacher in South Florida, about the breakup of the shuttle.
"It's a step back," he said. "These are people probably the brightest in our society, and they've just been blown up."
His son, Jeff, 21, said the situation was eerie, especially so close to the anniversary of the Challenger explosion.
"Obviously, there's speculation of terror," Ponce said about the possibility that a terrorist attack caused the shuttle's disintegration.
But others said they didn't fear that it was the work of terrorists or a military action. They speculated that it was likely a mechanical problem that caused debris to rain down on parts of Texas.
Julio Bueno, 20, and Li Tor, 18, both UF students, said many people now take the shuttle program for granted, considering it a regular occurrence like train trips or airplane takeoffs.
"People don't care," Bueno said. "This may spark some more interest and make sure the people in NASA are taking precautions."
Tor said, "Everything's not 100 percent. Everything's fallible."
But the incident may also force the government to re-evaluate its commitment to space.
Tor said she believes the work isn't as important as dealing with health care issues such as AIDS research. "Dealing with Earth first is more important than dealing with outside Earth first," she said.
Lise Fisher can be reached at 374-5092 or

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