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Update: At about 12:15 pm, April 29, 2011, about three hours before scheduled launch the launch was scrubbed for mechanical reasons. Initially it was delayed for 48 hours, but by the evening of April 29, it was officially delayed for a minimum of 72 hours — and on Monday, it was re-scheduled to launch no early than the following Sunday afternoon, May 8, 2011. Still later it was pushed back still further.
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Launch Day, Friday April 29, 2011
5:30 am / celebration, fl — We have decided to get up early and head out to the cape in an attempt to beat the traffic. We have houseguests who arrived overnight — Andrew and Molly — who will be seeing their first launch. We have printed maps of Titusville, but since we have viewed launches only once from outside the press site, we are of little real help to them.
6:15 am / route 417. I had figured we would monitor the NASA broadcast which began at 6:15 am. I have figured wrong. Instead we monitor the Royal Wedding on the BBC which is underway in London. Remarkably the happy couple is taking their vows at the moment we tune in. It’s not nearly as awful I expect and the music is okay.
6:25 am / Highway 528, the Beachline — Orlando toward Cocoa Beach. Scattered cars and traffic moving at its normal 75-80 mph. This road is virtually a chute with almost no exits. Traffic rockets unimpeded down this road for 30 or so miles. Piece of cake. No cops. Rain smatters as we approach the coast, but it is only a squawl and quickly gone. One construction zone. Uh-oh. They seem to be building another exit on the Beachline.7:05 am / The causeway. Have seen only one cop since leaving the Beachline and heading north; traffic remains light. We pull into security behind only two cars and are quickly waved through. Security guys are of good cheer. We banter with them briefly.
7:15 am / arriving at media site 39-A / I follow signs into the media site overflow parking before I realize that[s nuts. At this hour I should be able to park in the main lot just below the media center. This matters. In the main parking lot we can use the car as a storage bin. In the overflow, it will be too far to go back and forth so we’ll have to haul everything in at once. Carol Anne waits at the security gate entrance to the media site and I sprint back to the overflow lot to get the car. Returning, I ask the guard at the main parking lot gate how long he has been on duty — 16 hours. He gets off at 10 — 10 am or 10 pm? I don’t ask. He’s dour. He is definitely not of good cheer.
In other missions with heavy media coverage, NASA has made the media park at some state park miles south on State Road 3 and then be bussed in, or carpool in with at least three others accredited to cover the event. This is a nightmare because everyone wants you to carpool with them, and you want others to carpool with you so you have your car as a storage bin. I am relieved that on this mission they are letting us drive in — life is much easier that way. I have been asking all week if this was how it would be and assured that it was.
Until I was waved through security, I didn’t really believe it. NASA security often changes its mind minute by minute.
7:20 am / media center main parking lot. I park the car in the far end of the media lot facing Pad 39-A. Now if we want, we can watch the launch from the car, although in this location getting out of the lot will be murder: we will be the last out if everyone leaves at the same time. But we don’t intend to leave with everyone else.
Tonight we’ll stay at the cape for three or four hours after the launch. That million or so people should be gone by then and we should be able to coast back to Orlando smoothly with little traffic. It really doesn’t occur to me that this mission will not go through through and launch on the first available window. It’s proceeding as smoothly as I have ever seen all week.
As for where to park in the media lot, it helps to have been here before and know where launch pad 39-A is in relation to the media site. Most others, I’m happy to see, are piling into all the wrong spots leaving the best parking spots (which look like the worst spots) to the veterans.
7:25 am / media center. I review the VIP list which lists everyone who is coming along with Obama. Huge list. Cynically I scan it for big donars figuring the launch offers Obama a big chance to fatten his campaign coffers and continue toward his goal of raising a billion dollars for his 2012 re-election campaign, but I can’t tell after studying the list. Obviously I do not know a lot of really rich people.
7:30 am / media center. I immediately run into Jim Seigel, Celebration Independent, Celebration’s newspaper reporter in the parking lot. He seems like he wants to talk, but I need to get inside and check out the signup sheets to see what special events might be in the offering (nothing interesting, it turns out, is). Seigel is always everywhere and I figure we’ll talk later. But I never see him for the rest of the day, although he says his work space, like mine, is in the Annex.
Seigel is blue, and for good reason. “They gave my regular workspace in the main media center away,” Seigel says forlornly, “and sent me to the
Annex.” Welcome to the big dance Jim — they did the same to me.
The Annex is strictly third world: To communicate my new workmates in the Annex I need to be fluent in German and Japanese and godknowswhatelese. Later in the day, I decide to converse in Mumble to someone speaking a language I do not recognize. Hand gestures and Mumble doesn’t work as badly as people might think.
7:32 am / media center. I sign Carol Anne and I up for the “walkout” at 10 am — this is not much of an event and even if I get off the wait list (unlikely) I’ll skip it. What happens is that the media stands outside the astronaut dormitory forever in a sort of alley and eventually the crew walks by, waves and gets into a van. That’s it. Never speeded up my heart any of the times I’ve soldiered over and seen it.
I long ago decided that this, like the arrival of the astronauts flying in and getting out of their planes on the tarmac at the SLF (shuttle landing facility: the runway), is a made-up event. NASA feels they have to feed the press something, even if it is nothing, every once in awhile.
I check the weather — we’re holding at a 70-percent chance of launch, same as yesterday. I’m 110-percent sure they’ll go, and go on time. The President is, after all, in town.7:35 am / media center. Carol Anne and I walk over to the Annex, and I move stuff off my work space (Scientific American had dumped some of his stuff on my workspace). I plug in my computer. I’m usually given two workspaces, even though Carol Anne is the photographer, but this time we only have one workspace. Carol Anne and I eat our bagels and then she heads back to the car to go to sleep.
I begin writing.
8:10 am / the media annex. I take a real look at the Annex and analyze. Air conditioning: good. Chairs: good. TV monitors keeping eye on lots of different stuff: good, including good sound. My workspace: small, but fine. Internet: good. Enough plugs for power: good. Having nothing to complaint about: not good. Journalists prefer to be in a perpetual grumble. I’m too busy. Something will piss me off later when I have more time than I do just now.
I look around one last time waiting for my computer to log in. I am in the second row at the front of the annex. I can easily monitor NASA updates which are being broadcast on monitors against the front wall. There are, like, 20 rows of work tables behind me with people who don’t have my access and view.
Cannot grump about location of my workspace either.
I’ll find something.
8:15 am / media annex. Launch clock shows 4 hours 6 minutes and 48 second to launch. That’s NASA speak, and only for pilgrims:
Based on this the shuttle would go at 12:20 pm or so. It won’t. In reality NASA builds lots of holds into a shuttle launch.
A 2.5 hour hold is planned to start at 9:22 am EDT which will be T-3 hours to launch.
The real world launch is still scheduled for 3:47 pm EDT.
The three hour hold is scheduled to resume at 11:52 am and countdown to T-20 minutes, then there will be another hold at 2:32 pm for ten minutes.
A final hold comes at T-9 minutes for 45 minutes which is scheduled for 2:53 pm EDT. This hold ends, and the countdown will resume, at 3:38:52 pm EDT if all is still on schedule.
Finally, the Endeavour will launch, if it makes its first available window, at 3:47:42 EDT.
I think. I check: At that very moment the International Space Station, the shuttle’s destination, will be 220 miles up, southeast of New Zealand.
That’s the roadmap for the day.
We’ll see how it goes.8:20 am / media annex. My workspace is a table with room for four on each side — eight per table, four people facing four people. A couple shows up to my right and sets up. She isn’t particularly friendly.
On my left is Asahi Shimbun which is, what? A Japanese newspaper. I’ll google them later. The Asahi reporter has been here because they have somethingorother plugged in that looks like a router — but why would they need a router? It must be something else.
The woman on my right has now plugged in her Macbook Pro, as has the guy on her right. A Mac babe? She cannot be all bad. She’s also plugged in her Flip Video Camera, which reminds me I have left mine in the car.
Space with her arrival has become tighter. I decide to visit the Tweeter tent, and pee. I also decide its time to finish Wednesday’s T-2 blog which is in a shambles and what is worse, it is taking lots of hits.
I consider adding a note to Wednesday’s blog that reads something like “I’m going to fix this — please come back later when this is not in shambles.”
I decide that’s pathetic.
9:15 am media annex. I’m back after my field trip. This place is really filling up.
I have first gone to the car where Carol Anne is napping where I got my Flip.
Then I headed for the TweetUp tent and along the way visited with several Tweeters. One woman from New Hampshire is a teacher and is tweeting for her students. She says her boyfriend entered her name in the lottery and when she got the email she thought it was a joke. He, of course, is no where to be seen. He didn’t get picked.The TweetUp tent was abuzz. I had taken Flip video, and pictures from the identical places I took photos and video a couple of days ago so I can cut them together later (no people, lots of people, kind of thing).
Then I had looked over my shoulder and discovered cases of water. Never ever pass up water at a launch. I stuff two waters in my pants pockets. Uh-oh. My pants immediately southward. I stop. I set everything down and thighten my belt. Pants stabilize.
I drifted outside and followed the Tweeters over to the clock and realized this was going to be the official TweetUp picture. I pondered this and decided to be in the picture and position myself along the back. I have images of NASA people poring over the picture weeks from now identifying every Tweeter and countingt 151 Tweeters, not 150. I have imagines of panic! “Did we accredit one more than we thought?” I envision finger-pointing and shouting.”I didn’t do it!” “I’m not the one who mis-counted!” yaddadadda. And, of course, “who is THAT guy? Where did he COME from?
A NASA employee was addressing the Tweeters sternly. The tone of voice gets my attention, but it is not cause for concern. “Remember,” the voice is saying, “if you can’t see the camera, the camera can’t see you.”
I repositioned myself so I could see the camera if it ever would show up.
But then time passed — I got tired of waiting and headed around to the front to take a few pictures myself. Here, I ran into the same woman I spoke to at the Tweeter credential center on Wednesday. She doesn’t remember me at first (my animal magnetism is decades gone), but then decided she does remember me. We talk. She wears a neat pin and gives me one. I am a moocher. I play the “little children I know card” and she melts and hands me another pin.
My guess is she has a two pin mooch-limit.
Back at the main media center the snack truck has arrived. I decide I cannot stop because with the pins and the water and the cameras and other stuff I am packing like a Grand Canyon donkey, I simply have too much stuff to add a cup of coffee. Plus I’m heading into the media center to grab more loot. At the Boeing Desk I need to get Carol Anne a media notebook and some stickers, and pins.
Back finally in the media annex, I dump all the loot under my desk and decide I’d better update this launch day blog.
I google my neighbor and discover that the Asahi Shimbun is widely regarded for its journalism as the most respected daily newspaper in Japan. So far their reporter hasn’t shown up but that is who he/she is. Heavy. If they speak English, I am going to find out a lot about the rent tsunami and the nuclear problems when he/she shows up.
11:36 am EDT / media annex. Whew. Finally finished Wednesday’s T-2 blog, although it has a ton of typos and lots has been left out that can included later, including great pictures inside the Discovery hangar (I later decide to include them toward the end of this post since there’s not enough room on the T-2 blog — so to see these pictures, scroll down).
NASA now has STS-134 on their planned 3 hour hold.
Carol Anne has returned from being at the car, saying she is wiped out. She has very little room to work because of our having having that a single work space.
This is the long straight — flat, little happening.
Carol Anne and I decide to fill the time by eating again. We buy a breakfast sandwich at the mobile van for $2.25 — at that price it is a bargain. But they have no coffee, only cold drinks. We decide to drink the iced water Boeing is giving away in the main press center. Nice bottles printed with the Boeing logo — bottles are made for runners.
I give her the reporter’s notebook I got for her courtesy of Boeing. It is, as always, packed with information and with each launch it gets fatter and more useful.
Pins & Earrings. I show Carol Anne a pin which the woman who helps manage the Tweeters has given me. I also show her another pin which commemorates the International Space Station which a different contractor is handing out. She asks, did I remember to get pins for the grandchildren, Cecelia and Calle? Yes — that’s what the two pins are meant for.
This seems fine.
But then she remembers that Calle ate one of her gold earrings awhile back, an earring that Carol Anne chose, ahem, not to recover.
Calle will not be seeing her STS-134 pins until she changes her dining habits, probably about the time she enters high school.
Now I confess to her about my nearly winding up in the Tweeter photo. Carol Anne says “you know, you really do have to stop doing things like that.”
“At least I don’t eat your earrings.”Molly and Andrew and Polly and Wally — and Androlly. Andrew, Carol Anne’s son, and Molly, his soon wife-to-be, have been in touch. They left our home in Celebration, FL, about 8 am and because we have given them one of our turnpike passes have been able to whiz over to Titusville and the coast, avoiding the long lines at the toll booths. An hour or so ago they were arriving in Titusville and about to start searching for a place to watch the launch. Since then he has gone silent so we do not know where, if anywhere, he and Molly have managed to settle.
Since they have announced they were getting married, I have been busy working on names for the hoped for grandchildren. One generation-nexter we know is named Kim — and Kim married Jim, and they had children named Tim and a dog named Rin Tin Tin.
You see possibilities here?
I sure do.
Molly and Andrew could name their children Dolly or Holly or Polly or Wally or even Pollywolly — and if they were to have a surprise child, they could name her Golly.
Carol Anne sternly disapproves and is not amused.
I have had to hush up about this.
I have even had to stop referring to Andrew and Molly as a single entity, which currently they absolutely are: “Androlly.”
The secret about shuttle launches is it really doesn’t matter where you are.
We are able to watch them from our porch in Celebration, 40 miles away. In central they are hard to miss — they often come right over our house when landing. At the time of the Columbia tragedy in January 2007, I didn’t even bother to go to the cape, although I had credentials. I photographed the final Columbia liftoff from our second story porch in Celebration, Florida.
Nonetheless, everyone wants to get as close as they can and by being closer you will see the huge clouds of water vapor and the plums of smoke as the shuttle struggles off the pad.
Ya gotta see this thing closeup at least once in your lifetime.
11:40 am media annex. Carol Anne has gone outside to watch the astronauts pass in the van carrying them to launch pad 39-A. The van will pass within feet of the media site along the road. I had put her on the stand-by list to go out to the astronaut dorm and watch them pile into the van, but she had elected not to go. Covering something like that is a huge waste of time, but Carol Anne could have probably gone had she wished — she did not wish.
11:55 am / media annex. The table around me has filled up with the exception of the Japanese newspaper. Finding work space is confusing and more and more journalists are wandering around trying to figure it out. There are rows of tables with eight work spaces at each table, with blocks of plugs and ethernet cables in the middle. Four work spaces on one side face four work spaces on the other.
But the work space numbers are confusing. I have work space 15 in the Annex. The work space numbers are 12-16 on my side of the table, but just across from me, on the other side of the table, the numbers of the work spaces are in the 40s. No one can figure this out, and it has gotten worse because now most numbers on the work spaces are covered up by computers and occasionally by people sitting in the wrong space or slopping over onto adjoining work spaces. Reporters are wandering everywhere lost.
Across from me the Scientific American guy was arrived. A German newspaper reporter is diagonically across from me, screaming at someone giving them instructions to the Lansing, Michigan airport. He seems mental and vaguely dangerous.The Columbia and the reporter who saw it break up. To my right, the other woman from a scientific magazine has returned and is in a chatty mood now that she has completed her filings.
She lives in Boulder, Colorado. So did I years ago. We talk about Boulder.
She free lances, but before that was a reporter for the Dallas Morning News. One of my reporters, who I hired right out of journalism school in Oklahoma for one of my newspapers, eventually became an editor there. She’s never heard of him.
We drift into talking about the Columbia disaster. She had been in Dallas and had gone outside to watch the Columbia pass overhead. It was a Saturday morning. I ask her if she knew what she was seeing.
“I knew,” she says.
We speak no more of it.
Cynics all, but among our own kind. One of the best things about covering major events is that journalists are among their own people — cynical, curious and in possession of lots of information that can never show up in print or on TV because it cannot be vetted sufficiently to present as truth.Earlier in the week I had been visiting with an Arizona reporter and had asked about the Congresswoman who was shot by a constituent in Tucson. “How’s she really doing?” I had asked him. He had told his newspaper’s take.
I have discovered that at our work table in the annex almost everyone else is covering their first launch. I always used to hate it when old-timers (like I am becoming) used to start blabbering about the good old days and about how far they go back in covering NASA and how much they knew. Geech. Well, now almost nobody goes back anywhere as far as I do, and I keep quiet about it. But surprisingly, I am being drawn about about those earlier days today and being asked questions about it. No problem if you want to know.
Then a woman decides she needs to find a bathroom and a guy wants to go to the cafeteria across the street. Do I know any bathrooms where a woman might not have to stand in a long lines forever? It happens that I do. I know where the secret bathrooms are — and I tell her. She vanishes.
And the cafeteria, the guy asks? You bet — I tell him where to find it, but after rising, he pauses, wondering, “do they have tofu at the cafeteria?”
Who is NASA letting in the press site these days?12:15 pm / media annex. I watch on the monitors as the van of astronauts is passing just outside. A reporter across the desk from me puts down his headphones. “It’s off,” he said. “It’s scrubbed. It’s over for the day.”
The news is electric. Was it weather? The winds have been high all morning. “I think so,” the guy says. “I don’t know.”
12:20 pm / media site.I go outside to find Carol Anne who is watching the astronaut van. She tells me the van was passing and then abruptly pulled off into he VAB parking lot. “What’s up?” she asks.
12:21 pm / media site. Standing outside still we call Andrew and Molly. They have just paid $15 moments earlier at a recreation site in Titusville and will have a great view of the launch. “There’s not going to be a launch today — it’s scrubbed.”
12:50 pm / media center. A press conferecne on what happened is scheduled for 1 pm but we can listen to it on satellite radio in the car. Thank god that wedding is over. I check the next open launch dates — as of now they will launch no earlier than 3 pm Sunday afternoon.
I ask what happened and get a detailed explanation of the innards of how they keep the hydaulic lines heated in space and why they have triple redundancy. Without these lines landing would be in jeopardy.We decide to leave. I’m betting we can get fairly far down the road before the 700,000 to a million people on the highways figure out it is over. NASA just now is hinting that the mission is scrubbed publicly. If we don’t get ahead of the crowds, the 40-minute ride back to Orlando will table about 4 hours.
12:55 pm / leaving media site. We’re on the road and the roads are empty. Sirius radio is not broadcasting the NASA press feed, or at least I cannot find it. The press conference on what happened is — surprise of surprises — delayed until later in the afternoon anyway.
1:04 pm / the causeway, drawbridge. We hit the crowd, slow and finally stop. I put the car in park and begin to wait.
4:10 pm / celebration, fl. Carol Anne, now driving, pulls off the 417 into Celebration and we’re home. Andrew and Molly are about a half hour behind us.
7 pm / celebration, fl. We learn NASA has re-scheduled the launch for no earlier than 3 pm Monday. Andrew and Molly will have to head north on Sunday and will miss it. Carol Anne and I will have to re-scramble and re-schecdule, if possible, the obligations and travel which were planned beginning Monday for all of next week. We will stay until the shuttle is launched — that is a given. And we will be here when STS-134 returns from space about 16 days after launch.
We expect about 1/3 to 1/2 of the 1,500 reporters at Kennedy Space Center on Friday will be unable to return. Most were aying their own way and stringing for the publications for which they were accredited.