By Patrick Winderl
Community leaders voiced feelings of sadness today for the loss of the seven astronauts aboard space shuttle Columbia and expressed their condolences to the families of the fallen.
"It's a loss to the nation," Hill County Commissioner Pat Conway said. "It takes a toll on everybody. To say the least, it's devastating."
Conway said one of his most profound memories was watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon 33 years ago.
"I remember sitting with my father watching it happen," he said this morning. "The most astonishing thing about it was that when my father moved to Montana, his only transportation was provided by a team of horses, and here we were watching a man walk on the moon."
Conway said the employees of Hill County give their warmest regards to the families of the astronauts.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice called the event a "tragedy" and said it was a sad reminder of the perils of space exploration.
"It takes something like this to bring us back to reality," he said. "They (astronauts) risk their lives on every mission, and it is easy to forget that."
Rice said he was "deeply touched by the country's strong reaction to the tragedy."
Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said his reaction was "one of sadness."
"It is a sad day in history," he said. "It is a day that brings a heavy heart to all of us. It is a tragedy this country must endure."
Szudera lauded the achievements of the space program, and said, "All Americans benefit from the exploration of space."
A Havre man who once worked on NASA projects said he hopes officials will discover the cause of the explosion.
"This is a sad one," Lou Lucke said. "but the astronauts knew the risks involved. We need to find out what happened and learn from it."
Lucke said he worked on early Apollo space projects under contract with NASA while employed by aeronautics giant McDonnell Douglass Corp.
The Rev. Steve Flatau of Havre's Assembly of God Church said the church's congregation prayed for the families of the downed astronauts during services held last weekend.
Flatau, former head of the Havre Ministerial Association, said the church's Sunday night prayer service will again focus on the families.