Shuttle doctor and retired workers say space program needs to go on

A former Kingman resident who works as a doctor at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida described the explosion that killed all seven space shuttle astronauts Saturday as "the most difficult day of my professional career."

Art Arnold II, manager of medical operators for NASA contractor Bionetics, said the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia was "heart-wrenching," made all the more painful because he knew several of the astronauts.

He worked with astronaut Laurel Clark and her flight surgeon husband, Jon.

However, Arnold and three areas residents who worked on the space shuttle said NASA needs to continue the space program despite the tragic setback.

Arnold said he oversees the clinical and environmental laboratories and the fitness and rehabilitation centers at the space center, located near Cape Canaveral.

"We always stand by to support the events at emergencies," Arnold said.

"We provide emergency medical support in case of any accidents.

In this particular case we were very disappointed that we were unable to make use of our emergency facilities"

Arnold, a 1973 graduate of Kingman High School who now lives in Merritt Island, Fla., said his responsibility following the explosion 39 miles above Texas was to help care for the crew families.

He said he credits his father, Dr.

Art Arnold Sr.

of Kingman, for inspiring him to do the work he is doing now at the space center.

Arnold described the accident as one of "life's funny, little tricks," and said NASA needs to continue the space program.

"We just have to remember that space is a challenging and unforgiving environment," Arnold said.

Arnold's views are shared in part by space shuttle retirees Claudia Cierzan and Larry Esquibel of Kingman and Lee Linson of Meadview.

"Many things have come out of the space shuttle that we are using today: medicine, machinery," Cierzan said.

"I still believe in the program.

These people (who died) really love the space program."

Cierzan, who works for the voter registration division of the Mohave County Recorder's Office, said she started her 11-year career with the space shuttle program in the early 1970s.

She worked for both Rockwell International and Lockheed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., during the approach and landing tests.

While at Rockwell, Cierzan met Esquibel, who worked there with his late wife, Roberta.

Esquibel, who spent 20 years with the space program before retiring around 1982, said his work as a technician involved making sure wiring and electronic boxes were in the right places.

Esquibel said his son, Mark, also a Kingman resident, called him following the Columbia's explosion.

"It made me cry," Esquibel said.

"It was hard to lose something that you worked on."

He also referred to the explosion aboard the Challenger, which killed a seven-member crew in 1986.

The Columbia accident occurred because officials ignored warnings over the past 11 years about damage to the tiles in the spacecraft, Linson said.

"They should have had greater emphasis on the understanding of the damage," Linson said.

"But I can understand how this comes about.

Once you have gone to this effort for the scientific experiments, they did not want to cancel the flight."

Linson said safety procedures were part of his background when he spent three years in reliability and flight instrumentation for the shuttle program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

He retired from his 14-year career with NASA in 1977.

Linson remains optimistic about the space program.

"If I could go, I'd go on the next shuttle," he said.

"I went through all the simulation.

I know the inside and outs of the shuttle."