Personal ties evoke a range of sadness

Published: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 2:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 12:00 a.m.
In Gainesville, some people were saddened at the shuttle disaster because they knew one of the astronauts, while others were sad because of what the tragedy represented to them.
University of Florida professor Reza Abbaschian worked with astronaut Kalpana Chawla on a shuttle mission in 1997. Abbaschian, a professor of materials science and engineering, had an experiment about semiconductor crystals aboard the shuttle and Chawla was the mission specialist, Abbaschian said.
"She was an outstanding person," Abbaschian said. "I have nothing but praise. Everybody did their best. It went flawlessly."
And even though Chawla is gone, the help she gave lives on in the abundant data the experiment provided, Abbaschian said.
Larry Keen, spokesman for Santa Fe Community College, was a reporter with The Gainesville Sun when the Challenger shuttle exploded in 1986 and had applied to be the first reporter in space.
He wasn't chosen for the job, but he believed then and now that traveling in space is worth the risk.
"I just firmly believe we have to continue proceeding into space for the welfare of all the people on Earth," Keen said. "Not just for the spin-off discoveries, but for the spiritual side of it; reaching beyond this planet of ours, which we've pretty much explored."
Keen watched the Challenger explode from the roof of The Sun building in 1986 and said his feelings now are much the same.
"I didn't want to believe it . . . I just didn't want to believe what my eyes were clearly telling me, that it was destroyed," Keen said. "Probably like most of us, you take it personally because you have a vicarious involvement in it . . . The crews were diverse. It was an example of America. For all our problems and all we have to still accomplish, it was a wonderful example of what we can be. And to see it end so abruptly, you're just stunned."
Rabbi Andy Koren of Hillel Foundation said for him, the tragedy is just one more example of of the close connection between Israel and America.
"We're together in good and bad and thick and thin," Koren said.
Koren was in college when the Challenger shuttle exploded in 1986 and he thinks the community will revisit some of the same feelings again. "Everybody's really shocked and horrified and mortified," he said.
Hillel will be open for people who want to console each other and organize prayer services, Koren said.

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