NASA has increased the chances for favorable weather to 70% on Friday, which is great news! It will make my 5am EST drive to the airport much less stressful.
The first big event in the launch cycle is the movement of the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) back from the launch pad at 11:30pm EST tonight. They allow press and photographers over to the launch pad and give them an amazing vantage point right at the base of the shuttle. Here is a photo I took the night before the July 4th, 2006 launch of Discovery at the RSS rollback.
—Image Credit: Susan Poulton. To see more photos from this launch, visit the National Geographic News photo gallery of the mission highlights.
The service structure covers up the shuttle while it’s sitting on the launch pad for the weeks before launch. It allows team members to install the payload into the payload bay, load supplies into the shuttle, and provides some protection from the elements.
The RSS rollback is the first time the shuttle is exposed since it’s rolled out, and it’s quite a sight to see. The timing of it can be tough, though. After putting the press and photographers through extensive security checks and bussing them over there, unforeseen delays can leave you hanging out for hours. I remember my first RSS rollback, sitting outside on a hot summer Florida night getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, only to learn that the service structure moves at a snails pace when it finally gets moving. Below is a photo of the RSS from July, 2005.
—Image Credit: Susan Poulton