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02-03-03: Celina people see launch, grieve for crew
The Daily Standard
    Celina residents Bill and Linda Rogers were breathless as they watched the Columbia launch just a few miles away from Cape Canaveral on Jan. 16.
    "When the blast-off starts, there is a bright light and lots of smoke at the same time so it is easy to locate on the horizon," Linda Rogers said in a telephone interview Sunday from her apartment in Harbour Beach, Fla. "It's easy to follow with the naked eye, but with binoculars you can even see the orange fuel tank."
    Rogers said it was "a marvel to think that there were people in it who would soon be in orbit. We could see the shuttle until it was about 90 miles away."
    But on Saturday, as the couple turned on the television in their Florida apartment, 20 miles from Kennedy Space Center, they were dumbfounded as newscasters were reading biographies of the astronauts aboard.
    "We wondered why they were killing time like that," said Linda Rogers, 56. "Then we saw the latest report. It's so hard to believe that all seven are lost forever and they're never coming back."
    The Rogers of Highland Park have watched three shuttle launches from just miles away, since the snowbirds began heading south during the winter months three years ago. But this last launch will always be etched in their minds, they said.
    On the day of the launch, a Thursday morning, the Rogers arrived at a nearby diner for breakfast. They went out back to a boardwalk leading to the ocean, just a few miles from the launch site.
    "As we stood there watching, people started to gather," Linda Rogers said. "Some were visitors like us ... A lot were local people. By the time the countdown started, the parking lot was full."
   Linda Rogers remarked how the launches are not just a tourist thing. As she looked around she saw a plumber in his truck, a building contractor talking on a cell phone about orders, men in business clothing and young people. A couple of surfers stopped to watch, too, she added.
    "People who don't go down to the beach will go out to their driveways even though they can only see the vapor trail," from further distances, she said. "Even though it's a part of people's lives here, it's never taken for granted. It's an awesome sight."
    During the first year the Rogers vacationed in Florida, they purchased tickets and watched a launch from a restricted area at Kennedy Space Center, just two miles from the lift-off area.
    They've never gone out for a shuttle return because they've been told it returns so fast that you can't see it - and all at once it's there.
    Signs of support have popped up all around the area, the couple said. "All of our blessings go to the families of the astronauts," reads one sign in front of a local police department. On a restaurant billboard, "In God we trust the space shuttle," was posted in big letters for passing motorists to ponder.
    The mood in the area is obviously somber, and flags everywhere are flying at half staff. Linda Rogers said a good majority of the Melbourne area residents are either active or retired  personnel from NASA or St. Patrick's Air Force base, many who have been touched personally in one way or another by the tragedy.
    "At the grocery store everyone just nods heads," she said. "You don't have to speak, we all know what's on each other's minds."
    Many of the churches also have posted messages of inspiration and support for the astronaut's families. Special services are being held throughout the area such as the one held Sunday night at the Catholic church the Rogers attend.
    Bill Rogers, 66, said his heart goes out to all those involved in the space mission, especially the families of the victims, many of whom were on hand at Cape Canaveral to see their loved ones return Saturday.
    "It's pretty sad for the families. There will be no closure, there was no time for good-byes," Bill Rogers said.


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The Standard Printing Company
P.O. Box 140, Celina, OH 45822