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Return to space

By Staff
Delays cause him to miss launch, but Hartselle man joins in shuttle celebration
Bob Jaques, Special to the Enquirer
The countdown steadily continued for the launch of space shuttle Discovery and the STS-114 crew from Kennedy Space Center last Tuesday, July 26, at 9:39 CDT. Five -four – three – two – one……and we have lift-off!"
With those words, 300 Marshall Space Flight Center employees watching the launch on closed-circuit television in Huntsville broke into spontaneous applause and cheers as Discovery climbed higher above its launch pad. There were pats on backs, eyes moistened by tears of joy, laughter, and even audible sounds of "Go Discovery!" What an emotional event! A few minutes before the lift-off, MSFC Director David King who was at KSC, sent a message to those gathered in the Marshall Activities Building that said, "Nine hundred three days to return to flight….let's go!"
The launch of Discovery was the Return to Flight mission following the tragic loss of Columbia and her crew on Feb.1, 2003. NASA engineers and managers have worked hard to find the cause of the Columbia break-up. They are committed to fix the problem and to return the shuttle to safe space flight. The space shuttle is needed to complete the construction of the International Space Station, and to carry crews with supplies to the Station on a regular basis.
This STS-114 mission is the 114th Space Shuttle flight, and is the 17th flight to the International Space Station. The seven crew members are commanded by Eileen Collins, who became the first female shuttle commander in 1999 on STS-93 and who is a former U.S. Air Force test pilot.
One of the VIP's watching the launch at KSC was First Lady Laura Bush, who was in Orlando on business, and decided to see the lift-off. She attended with her brother-in- law Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Asked about the launch, Mrs. Bush replied, "It's an important day for our country. I think it is pretty terrific."
Thirteen days earlier the launch was originally scheduled for Wednesday, July 13 at 2:51 p.m. CDT. With less than two hours to go before lift-off, the launch sequence was terminated due to a faulty reading from one of four fuel gauge sensors. The reading is critical for the operation of the shuttle main engines. For example, if the sensor shows "empty" even though it is full, then it will automatically shut down the engines. If it shows "full" and it is empty, then the engines will be severely damaged since they receive their cooling from the super-cooled fuel. In both cases the flight safety could be seriously affected by this faulty gauge.
Representing the Hartselle Enquirer, I was able to attend the scheduled launch at Kennedy Space Center by qualifying for a NASA press pass. This allowed me to view the launch from the press site, which is directly behind the large countdown clock The press site is three miles south of the launch pad. Except for the astronauts buckled into their seats aboard the orbiter, no human was closer than three miles to the launch pad.
More than 1,250 accredited press people were on hand to view and report the flight of STS-114. There was worldwide attention on this flight. I met reporters from Sweden, Germany, Japan, England, Mexico, and Australia. But the majority of reporters were from around the United States. I saw Huntsville's Channel 19 transmitting truck parked among other television trucks at the press site parking area.
The security was tight at the entrance to KSC. I was checked at least twice before being cleared to proceed to the press site. No one could enter KSC after 11 a.m.
The temperature and the humidity were both in the 90's. The only relief was to cool off in the crowded air-conditioned NASA Media Building. I found a small place to sit on the floor squeezed between a reporter from Sweden and a reporter from Mexico. At least I was out of the heat and humidity for awhile.
Several astronauts and other important NASA officials could be seen moving around inside the Media Building. Some of the people I talked with at the press site were former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe; Astronaut David Wolf; Gene Krantz, the Apollo 13 mission control supervisor; Astronaut Scott Parazynski, who flew on John Glenn's flight in 1998; and Rick Hauck a former astronaut who commanded the Return to Flight mission following the Challenger Disaster. I asked Rick Hauck what he thought was going through STS-114 Commander Eileen Collins mind as she waited for lift-off onboard Discovery. He replied, "I don't know exactly, but I thought about good weather and a good launch. Maybe she is, too."
Regarding this Return to Flight mission, David King, the Director of Marshall Space Flight Center, told me "….this is an exciting time!" Jan Davis, former astronaut and Manager of Marshall's Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate, said as she looked at Discovery in the distance, "I would like to be flying again, but am enjoying my present position."
Hartselle resident Lynette Madison was seen helping arrange media requests for astronaut interviews. She works with the media at MSFC, and was at KSC to assist in dealing with the large media presence.
During the long seven hour wait before launch time, I noticed a white van in the press site parking area with "Close Out Crew" in large white letters on the side. I walked over and met four men in white jump suits. I asked what they did at KSC. I learned that two of the men helped the astronauts put on their parachutes and then helped buckle them into their seats. The other two men checked the orbiter door and latched it securely. Then they moved to the three-mile limit from the launch pad to await the launch.
Sure, I was disappointed the shuttle did not fly that day, but I enjoyed being part of the press corps and watching space history unfold. I knew Discovery would fly soon, and that
America's space program would once again be preparing for deep space exploration.
The 12-day mission of STS-114 will conclude with a landing at 3:46 a.m. CDT on Aug. 7 at Kennedy Space Center. I wish I could be there to see the landing, but I will be home watching it on television, and then going back to bed.