The Final Countdown: Two days to launch?
Published: July 6, 2011
Reporter Chris Carroll is in Florida this week to report on the final launch of the space shuttle. Follow his personal observations of the event here and on his Twitter feed.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. – After the security gate, a series of adjustable signs leads through palms and pine trees deeper into the nation’s most iconic space facility: “2 days to launch.”
I’m headed for the press site, just past the base of the NASA Vehicle Assembly Building. At more than 500 feet tall and 700 feet long, the blocky structure is so disorientingly large in every direction that it seems to spring from science fiction. It’s here NASA put together the Saturn V rocket that launched Americans to the moon, and later prepared every space shuttle for launch.
It’s Wednesday morning, and a crowd is building at the press site, where hundreds of journalists from around the world are milling around a ramshackle collection of buildings, trailers and tents inhabited by representatives of different NASA facilities as well as the space agency’s contractors.
A nearby field on the banks of a small lake is, as shuttle program public affairs head Kyle Herring told me, “the closest you’re going to get to a launch. You can feel the ground shake.” A mix of VIPs and journalists will gather to watch the launch here Friday. The final countdown will be provided by a giant digital clock that looks like it has seen many launches.
Looking out from the field, I can see the orange spire of Atlantis’ external fuel tank poking above the trees a few miles in the distance. It’s a beautiful, warm Florida morning, with a hazy layer of high clouds cutting the sun enough to make the heat nearly comfortable.
The clouds, however, will thicken, Orlando TV weatherfolk say. The current Friday forecast calls for 70 percent chance of heavy rain, which would likely delay the launch. I wonder what NASA will do with those signs in that case. Will it be “?? days to launch,” or do they drop into negative numbers: “-2 days to launch?”