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From the Field
By Jim Bell

As a longtime Houston area radio reporter, who broke into the business covering Project Gemini space flights in the 1960s, I have to say up front that I am not the most unbiased person in town on the subject of the space program. I lived and worked in the area around the Johnson Space Center for a long time, and I have been personally acquainted with several astronauts and their families, and countless NASA employees and others connected to the program.

I'm saying all that to let you know how hard the Shuttle Columbia disaster is hitting me personally, and I must say I'm a little surprised to see that most if not all the other reporters here in Houston are feeling the same way. That's the inherent problem that comes with living in the same town with something as great and grand as the space program. It comes with the territory.

It's more than the jobs it brings to Houston, or the billions of dollars in local economic impact. It's the intensely personal feeling of pride that comes with being close to something an old News Director of mine once dubbed "Man's Greatest Adventure". That's exactly what it is, and we in the reporting business get to be closer to it than most people, and I think that's incredible. One of my most prized possessions is a collection of NASA Press ID badges representing every space flight in the Gemini and Apollo programs, including all the moon landings. Those badges are proof that I was there covering those incredible stories, and they're priceless to me.

We are allowed to get to know these extraordinary people as more than "just another interview", and I'm the first to agree that this closeness puts our objectivity to the test at times, when we have to go chase down a story that puts the program or a particular person in a bad light. But, somehow we struggle through, and manage to find the balance between being objective disinterested observers and adoring advocates. We have to find it, or face the prospect of losing our credibility.

Incidentally, the area of East Texas where Columbia came down also hits home with me, because Lufkin is my home town. It's where I grew up, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that everybody in that town is either a relative or an acquaintance. As you can no doubt tell by watching the TV coverage, most of these people are just good ole boy laid back Texans, and I love them.

I'm proud of them, because when this all started Saturday, I realized that the TV crews were going to be putting everybody on the tube and I cringed a little. Oh No! Here we go again, with reporters finding toothless old rubes to represent East Texas in his or her story. Fortunately, that hasn't happened, I don't think. I think the good people of East Texas are doing themselves proud and demonstrating that they're not just another bunch of dim small town hicks. Go East Texas!!