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The Final Space Shuttle on Pad 39A before Launch

The final mission in July 2011 the Space Shuttle program was STS-135, an add-on mission necessary to re-supply the International Space Station through the end of 2012.  This photograph is pre-dawn morning at Kennedy Space Center a day before the final flight.

Pete Crow at Launch Pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center, with STS-135, final mission in the shuttle program on pad behind him awaiting launch. (Carol Anne Swagler photograph, © 2011 Seine/Harbour Productions)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Endeavour which flew its final flight on STS-134 is now in OPF-2 (Orbiter Processing Facility 2) where it is being readied for being turned over to the California Science Museum in September 2012.

Pete Crow in the Commander seat on the flight deck of the Space Shuttle Eneavour on March 7, 2012. The photograph is by Tony Achilles of radio station WPKN in Bridgeport, CT.

As NASA did with the shuttle Discovery, the media was invited to have a look around on March 7, 2012 including visits to the flight deck.

Status of the three surviving orbiters (originally there were 5 — the first two, Columbia and Challenger were lost):

Endeavour — in early stages of preparation for Los Angeles
Discovery — goes to Smithsonian at Dulles Airport April 17, 2012
Atlantis — goes to Kennedy Space Center Visitors’ Center — building to house Atlantis is under construction

The Houston Johnson Space Center will get the shuttle mockup that has been at the Kennedy Space Center. It is on the dock at KSC in front of the Media Site 39 awaiting its barge ride to Galveston, Texas.

New York City will get, or may already have, the shuttle mockup that has been at the Smithsonian Museum at Dulles Airport.

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See my interview with Buddy McKenzie of the Space Alliance standing under the tail of the Endeavour on March 7 below:

DISCUSSION OF THE SHUTTLE TILES and challenges they presented to the NASA ground crews. This runs about five minutes.  Tony Achilles, WPKN in Bridgeport, Connecticut, shot this footage. This clip, which features Pete Crow interviewing Mr. McKenzie can also be found here. More of Mr. Achilles excellent footage of others events can also be found at this link.

NASA invites everyone associated with the shuttle, including the Media, to sign the walls of the White Rooms which will go to Museums. Pete’s signature is at the bottom of the Endeavour White Room wall on your right as you enter.

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.”petecrow/NASA” is jointly copyright © 2012, by Seine/Harbour® Productions, Studio City, CA, and by the Peter Michael Crow Trust.

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On Sunday, December 11, 2011, the high fidelity Space Shuttle mockup that has been at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Center was moved 5.6 miles from the Visitor’s Center to the Media Press Site 39 parking lot adjacent to the turning basin. In March this shuttle, known as “Explorer” while at the Kennedy Space Center, will be placed on a barge and sent to Galveston, Texas, and then on to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for permanent display.

The move took about three hours, starting about 7:30 am and ending about 11 am.

The Shuttle mockup leaving the Visitor Center. This mockup never flew in space. With it gone, the Visitor Center will build a special building to house a real Shuttle which is expected to be on display in late 2012 or early 2013.


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This photograph was taken at Location 4. This is the intersection of Schwartz Road and Contractor Road. The Shuttle has turned north and is headed up Contractor Road past the Railroad Engines. Movement of the Explorer, as it was known while at the Visitor's Center, went much quicker than expected. Originally the media was told movement would begin at 7:30 am and taken until 3 pm. In actuality movement began at 8:30am and ended at 11 am.


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This photograph was taken at Location 7 (see map of route below). Nearing the end of its 5.6 mile journey to the Pad 39 Media site parking lot, adjacent to the turning basin, the movers stopped the shuttle move for awhile to allow photographs in front of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Then they gathered and photographed themselves in a group shot.


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(Location 7) A few hundred yards from the Pad 39 Media site parking lot, and the Turning Basin, the mover-guys pulled over, piled out and allowed the media to takes pictures of the shuttle, and of themselves, in front of the VAB. Then, with the media done, they piled in front of the shuttle and their truck, for pictures of their own. These guys finished what was expected to be a 7.5 hour journey of 5.6 miles in a tidy 2.5 hours. They were so good that everybody was home in time for Sunday lunch and the afternoon football games.


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Carol Anne Swagler, self portrait. Ms. Swagler is accredited as a photographer and, you will note, she got herself entirely in the photograph but only half of the Shuttle. She would argue, and we would agree, she got most of what she was going for in this picture. Ms. Swagler took 267 photographs of the move on Sunday, December 11, 2011. Patricia Christian (in red behind Ms. Swagler), NASA public relations, was one of several escorts on Sunday. (Location 7).


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(CLICK to ENLARGE) This is the route from Visitor's Center to the parking lot at the press site. The media photographed the movement from 8 sites marked on this map.

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.”petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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Hangar to VAB to Launch to Space & back

Shuttles always returned on landing to one of four hangars which were offically known as Orbiter Processing Facility 1, 2, 3 and 4. In the OPF the shuttle was serviced, repaired as necessary and readied again to fly in space.


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Movement of the shuttle first was from the OPF to the Vehicle Assembly building several hundred yards away. This movement was called "the rollover" and took several hours.


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The shuttle was transported on a carrier that was driven by a driver. Entering the VAB the shuttle was in the Transit Aisle, a room which extends to the top of the VAB more than 500 feet and 40 stories high.


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Carol Anne Swagler's Shuttle photograph from a 16th floor catwalk in the VAB. As lifting of the shuttle begins, the shuttle seems to takes flight. Once she is upright, she hangs above the Transit Aisle for hours.


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On the Transit Aisle, the shuttle is harnessed and then turned on end. It is allowed to hang there for hours until it completely settles and stops swaying. Then it is slowly lifted 500-feet to the ceiling on the VAB.


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Pete Crow's Shuttle photograph showing the Atlantis after being moved directly over the 5-story high Crawler/Transporter in VAB High Bay 1. This photo was taken from a catwalk on the 16th floor of the VAB.


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The most difficult and occasionally time-consuming step in the "Lift (the shuttle) to Mate (the shuttle with the Transporter/Crawler) is lowering the shuttle precisely onto the Crawler to enable its being secured onto the Crawler/Transporter. Once the shuttle is secure, the Crawler begins moving out of the VAB, as shown here, toward the Launch Pad at the rate of 1 mile and hour.


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Once outside the VAB, the Crawler turns onto the Crawler way, two strips on Alabama river rock separated by a green center median. The Crawler way leads to both Pad 39-A and Pad 39-B, branching several miles down the Crawlerway. In the final missions only Pad 39-A was used. Pad 39-B was torn down and demolished in May and June 2011 to begin to prepare it for Constellation, the next US manned space program. President Obama canceled Constellation after millions had been spent, but the outcry was so great he reinstated it. More money was spent and then Mr. Obama canceled it again. All that remains is a 1960s-esq capsule that resembles Apollo called Orion. Orion is a capsule without a rocket to get it into space and no one will say when a rocket for it will be announced.


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The Crawler is five stories high. To gauge the size of it look for the man in this picture besides the track (bottom center). For many years NASA invited selected members of the press to walk with the Crawler from the VAB to the Pad. As the program neared an end, the shuttles were commonly moved at night and it was deemed too dangerous to allow the media to walk with the shuttle any longer.


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Carol Anne Swagler, Grove Sun Daily, walks far ahead of the shuttle and stands on one of the twin rock highways on which the shuttle traveled. The Crawler and shuttle were so heavy the rocks on the highway were crushed each time and had to be replaced. Nothing about the shuttle program was easy or inexpensive.


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Pete Crow and the Shuttle Atlantis days before her final July 8, 2011 launch. Once at the Pad, the payload for the shuttle is brought to the pad and lifted up onto the Rotating Service Structure, directly behind Pete Crow. The payload for STS-135 is in the white rectangular box over his left shoulder. When ready, the shuttle's payload doors are opened and the RSS is rotated until it covers the shuttle. The payload is then secured in the shuttle's bay.


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The RSS remains mated with the shuttle until about 18 hours before launch. Then it is retracted -- rotated more than 90-degrees leaving the shuttle alone on the pad, and ready to be fueled about 9 hours before launch.


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The RSS has been fully retracted and the shuttle is ready to be launched. This is Endeavour awaiting launch on STS-134, the second to last shuttle mission. Retraction is a popular press event unless it rains. Few photographed the retraction of the final shuttle mission, STS-135, on the afternoon of July 7, 2011 because the time for retraction was repeatedly shifted due to weather, and because weather at the Pad was often a driving rain and it was muddy. Retraction was more easily enjoyed by watching it on NASA-TV from the comfort of the Pad 39 Press site.


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Kennedy Space Center adjoins a wildlife sanctuary, Merritt Island, on the eastern shore of the Atlantic Ocean. Dawn here is often beautiful as it was on the blustery morning of July 8, 2011, when Pete took this photograph of the Atlantis on Pad 39-A.


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Pete Crow shuttle Atlantis photograph from the roff of the Vehicle Assembly Building seconds after lift-off. There are only a handful of photographers allowed on the VAB roof for safety reasons, but Seine/Harbour® and The Grove Sun, Grove, Oklahoma, were granted two of the less than 40 spaces on July 8, 2011.


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This is Endeavour being launched on STS-134 on May 16, 2011. The view is 22 seconds into the launch and was taken at the Media Press site. It shows a strikingly different perspective than the picture directly above taken from the VAB roof. Once launched the astronauts are in subjected to three+ G's (three times the weight of gravity). It doesn't last long. Eight minutes after launch the shuttle is over Africa and in space. And the astronauts are weightless.


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Later shuttle missions lasted 12 to 14 days. The shuttle has to watch its energy reserves which drive the electrical which drives its computers. Generally, the shuttle undocks two days before landing from the International Space Station (ISS) then re-configures its orbits for landing in Florida. Landing begins with a de-orbit burn on the other side of the world, commonly over the Indian Ocean. Once the de-orbit burn is exectued about 60 minutes from landing, the shuttle has no where else to go except to the tiny Shuttle Landing Facility (runway) at Kennedy Space Center. This photo, taken by Pete, is of the final landing of Discovery and was taken on the northern end of the runway.


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.”petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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The roof of the largest building in the world, NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, is 515 feet above sea level, 40 +stories high. Look carefully at the left of this photograph taken by Pete Crow at 11:21 am on July 8, 2011. In the distance Atlantis sits on Launch Pad 39A. In less than eight minutes Atlantis would be gone, headed to space for the final time. When Atlantis returns on July 20 or July 21, she will be towed down the road to her permanent home at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center Museum. Atlantis is expected to arrive at the Museum, after much prep work, in 2012.

Photographers on the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) wait for the launch of Atlantis (in distance, far left).

For safety reasons only 40 people are allowed on the VAB roof for launches because escape from the roof is limited.

Although there are five narrow stairways leading from the roof, one on each side of the building and one in the center at the elevator stairwell, only one stairway — the west stairway — is deemed suitable in the event of a mishap on the launch pad. That is because to escape from the roof NASA policy is for escapees to flee as far away from the launch pad as possible before exiting the roof.

No one has ever had to escape the VAB roof and, with the exception of the Challenger tragedy in 1986, no mishaps ever occurred in launching the space shuttles. Challenger broke up over the Atlantic Ocean with the loss of the entire crew. No one on the ground was injured.

Among the 25 or so news organizations NASA granted VAB roof access for the final historic launch from approximately 3,000 accredited media were the Smithsonian Magazine, the Orlando Sentinel and two video and still photographers from Seine/Harbour® Productions, Studio City, California/The Grove Sun, Grove, Oklahoma — Carol Anne Swagler and Peter Michael Crow.

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And so the Launch Day (L-0) day begins. I have skipped coming to the Cape on L-1, Thursday, July 7, 2011, because of the rain and because what we wanted to see — the press conferences — were on NASA-TV. We could sit in our kitchen, eat with feet propped. Another reason to skip L-1 was because I had been over to the Cape for three straight days — and this was coming off of two days in Houston at Johnson Space Center last week.

Two Canadian journalists walk in front of the countdown clock about 2:30 am, Friday, July 8, 2011. Like many journalists they paid their way, and drove more than a day to get to the Cape. If the shuttle failed to launch on Friday, they might be able to stay Saturday, but by Sunday they would have to begin their long trek home. The space program is a beacon to young journalists like these kids, and to youth in general. The tiny dot on the far right is Pad 39A and the Shuttle Atlantis..

I was tired. Carol Anne was exhausted, and even skipped L-2 (Wednesday).

By skipping L-1 we did miss the restraction of the Rotating Service Structure, but early in the afternoon we got a call from a friend at the Cape asking us if we planned to miss the driving rain and mud out at Pad 39-A. Unn, the answer was Yes.

I noticed, in going through my notes for the recent launches, that I had also skipped L-1 during the STS-134 launch in May. Must have been tired for that one, too.

11 pm, July 7, 2011 — To the Cape. Carol Anne and I had decided to coast over to the Cape starting at 11 pm. That should put us inside the security bubble by 12:15 am if traffic was minimal as we expected it would be. The unknown factor was how many people would be streaming over hoping to find spots to view the launch outside of KSC. We were betting that in the rain the 1-million expected people would be in no hurry — and we were right.

Traffic on the Beachline, Highway 528, was moving at its accustomed 75-80 miles an hour, complete with the usual tailgaters.

The JSC press crew doesn't always love the Tweeters like I do. For the second attempt to launch on STS-134 the Tweet tent vanished. This time Tweeters autos have been banished to a far away parking lot. No matter -- the Tweeters are also enthusiastic and are one-timers (they do not get to come back a second time). There are only 150 of them and I'm looking for them. It's 3 o'clock in the morning and none are anywhere to be seen. Do you know where your Tweeter is? I don't.

Inside the security bubble, 12:15 am, Friday, July 8, 2011. We wanted to be at the media site by the time the decision was made on tanking. This was the crucial decision — unless they tanked, the mission was scrubbed, but I was sure they would tank and, right on, at 2:01 am they began tanking.

The Tweeters had been banned from the media parking lot and must trudge better part of a half mile to their tent. Good for us, and great for finding a parking spot in the media parking lot. Not so good for the Tweeters, especially if it rains.

By the time we were at the Cape the rain, driving at times throughout Thursday, had abated to a sprinkle. At the media parking lot we were waved through and found a spot in the front row. Carol Anne objected because she planned to sleep, but then re-thought it and decided front row, closest to the media center, was all good especially if it rained. The car stayed in the front row.

The media center, 12:45 am. The media center is deserted with only a skeleton public relations crew. Carol Anne and I walk across the street to the cafeteria taking advantage of a break in the rain. The selection is thin, but we get coffee — something which, inexplicably, the canteen wagon which will show up about 3 am never has.

As we walk back rain begins again. Carol Anne vanishes to sleep in the car and asks me to tell her if the tanking and the mission are scrubbed. “If the mission is scrubbed,” I grumble, “we’re going home. You can figure it out if the car starts moving.”

Clearly more sleep and less coffee is in order. I apologize.

Carol Anne sleeps and the mission is not scrubbed.

3:20 am, the press site.I drift the press site out to the Tweetup tent looking for Tweeters. No luck. I find three young kids from Canada covering their first shuttle launch. They’re pumped. I love their enthusiasm. We swap stories about Los Angeles where one of them lived.

The only action at the Tweetup Tent at 3 am was the Spacevidcast. I think I should know who they are and what they do, but fact is I don't and they were busy broadcasting to godknowswho and taking phone calls. So I waded on through the wet grass and occasional mud, stepping over cables and watching out for nearly invisible ropes.

The Tweetup tent is empty but there’s a broadcast going on just outside the front door. I cannot figure out who they are, and no one seems interested in telling me. I drift on.

It is dark and muddy out here. Cables snake everywhere. Normally I cut across areas, but now I find there are even ropes tied to nearly invisible posts. Dangerous. I decide for one of the few times in my life to obey the rules. I follow the road and the signs and while it takes longer to get back to the media center, I arrive alive.

Androlly. We may be inside the bubble, but son Andrew and his son-to-be wife, Molly,are not going to be. I call them Androlly because they are, in their words, “inside the love bubble” and can be considered, for now, a single entity. However, Carol Anne does not entirely approve. I also have taken to calling our two granddaughters, age 6 and 8, whose last name is “Dagner”, “The Dagnets”. Again, there is not rousing approval.

Andrew and Molly earlier had planned to drive overnight from northern Florida where they both work, and then to bunk at our home in Celebration for the weekend.

But, of course, the Friday launch is so iffy that an all night drive after working all week long.

It is now almost 3:30 am and while they are not exactly missing in action, they are out there somewhere in the dark and we’re not quite sure where.

All sorts of memorabilia are for sale in a small wagon that is always parked in the parking lot, but is rarely open. Long before dawn members of the press were lining up. Another shop selling STS-135 merchandise was located adjacent to the cafeteria. Also, companies like Boeing handed out pins, stickers and notebooks at their desk in the media center. Just drift by and ask.

Wait — here’s an idea! Maybe someone should just call them.

They have stayed in Tallahassee — worked late, read the weather reports and figured it would be a no-go. They’ll be here Sunday if they are right.

4:30 am, Media Press Site. I grow weary of working on revisions in a screenplay, and decide to stretch. In a few moments I am outside gazing at the huge assembly of media trucks in the parking lot and now covering the old site of the Grandstand which was destroyed in a hurricane in 2004.

I grow nostalgic realizing that my time at the Cape and at this media site are coming to an end. I have been covering events here since the final Apollo flight, Apollo 17, in December 1972 — before most people covering STS-135 were born.

I will be here only once more — for the landing of the Atlantis in a couple of weeks. And then, in all likelihood, my visits to the press site, and indeed the use of the press site itself, are likely to be rare.

What really will not happen again is the assemblage of media here this morning. It rivals that first launch I covered, Apollo 17, when 2,200 were accredited. For STS-135 there are probably 3,000, plus another 150 Tweeters.

Nothing that NASA has in the pipeline will be-stir media interest like this again for at least a decade — and perhaps, going the way NASA is going, never again.

4:55 am The Annex. I was exiled to the dreaded Annex during STS-134, the previous launch.

When too many media request workspace, NASA/KSC has a backup building called The Annex. During STS-134 I was exiled to the Annex which has great air conditioning, but feels remote.

I always have work space in the main media center and until STS-134 I had never heard of “The Annex.” Then arriving to cover STS-134 in April 2011, I found myself in it, facing some nice German guy and sitting beside other well-meaning foreign journalists who spoke no English but smiled a lot.

It was not that the Annex was bad workspace — it was actually very good workspace.

But reporting from the Annex was like trying to cover the launch from Bulgaria.

The main media center is alive, throbbing with activitiy and I could learn things there by eavesdropping, something that I, like most journalists, excel at and take pride in.

A woman primps before going on the air in one of the many setups for TV lining the edge of the press site.

Well. There was no one and nothing to eavesdrop on in the Annex unless you spoke Farci. The best thing about that well-turned out dump was it had great air conditioning.

I was curious to see how the Annex was faring during STS-135, and wanted to know who’d managed to get themselves shipped out there — so I stopped by.

The Annex was, as expected, rumpled at 5 am with a guy sleeping on four chairs.

I drifted around and was stunned to find such organizations as UPI stuck in the back row. The rest was to be expected — the usual gaggle of TV stations from places like Honolulu and foreign media from countries I’d never heard of.

5:10 am The canteen wagon. Buried in the parking I see a glow that doesn’t quite look like other satellite trucks. The canteen wagon was supposed to arrive about 3 pm, but it is usually parked behind the media center, and this morning it is no where to be seen.

The Snack Mobile actually had coffeee. it never does. But the Snack Mobile got a new, hard to find spot out in the parking lot instead of just behind the media center. Nonetheless, enough people found it fast enough to drink all the coffee. So, then, the Snack Mobile didn't have coffee. Situation Normal.

I decide to investigate since I’m roaming around aimlessly anyway. Lo and behold, it is the canteen, but since they never have coffee I figure I won’t be interested.

Entry to the wagon is from the back, exiting past the driver who is the cashier. I lean into the front door and ask if she has coffee.

“Yes.”

“Really?” They never have coffee.

“Yes.”

I go inside and find I am standing behind two foreign journalists who are having trouble filling the coffee cups, finding lids, finding the sugar — hell, maybe finding their zippers. Time passes. They continue to dither about one thing and another. They decide to allow me to pass and to get my coffee, so I do. But now they are in front of where the coffee lids are, and they are dithering again.

I smile. They smile. The woman running the canteen smiles.

Eventually I escape with my coffee which, remarkably, is still hot.
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.”petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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Tanking begins. Candrea Thomas, NASA public affairs office, told media gathered at the press center at 1:50 am that the decision had been made to begin tanking the Atlantis at 2:01 am. Tanking normally tanks several hours.

Shuttle Atlantis at Pad 39-A, Kennedy Space Center, 2 am, July 8, 2011, at the moment when the countdown clock was restarted at T-6 hours. There are a series of built-in holds in the launch schedule. Although the countdown clock shows 6 hours to launch, launch is actually more than 9 hours away. - photograph Courtesy of NASA TV

This is one of the last significant steps in preparing the shuttle for launch.

Chances of weather allowing launch at 11:26 am EDT remained only 30-percent, Ms. Thomas added.

The Friday, July 8, 2011 launch window is 3 minutes and 18 seconds from 11:31:46 am EDT to 11:35:04 am.

Weather throughout the week had deterioirated until by Friday, chances of launch were rated by Kathy Winters, shuttle weather officer, at only 30-percent. Nonetheless, it is policy of the NASA launch teams to continue to move forward, weather and mechanicals permitting.

Sometimes it pays off. Shuttles have been launched in a 90-percent no-go weather window when weather cleared briefly and sufficiently to permit launch. But mostly it doesn’t work out.

If the shuttle is not launched on Friday, betting is that NASA will skip the Saturday window and try to launch again on Sunday. Getting its launch crew home and back, with sufficient time to rest, through roads expected to be crowded by about 1-million people will likely prove impossible.

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