National Geographic

Launch Day From Kennedy Space Center

Update 7:35pm EST:


—Image Credit: Susan Poulton

Twenty minutes until launch, and the nearly full moon has made a spectacular appearance behind the shuttle launch pad. This is one of those unique experiences that will make for some breathtaking photos of this launch. I’m making the final adjustments on my camera and waiting for the final “go” or “no go” for launch. Once they come out of the final hold at 9 minutes, we all rush outside to get ready for the big show. At that point, there will be no more holds, and we’re moving to launch!

Update 6:30pm EST:

The hatch to the shuttle has been closed and sealed. We continue to watch the weather. Winds are a concern and they should know more in the next 30 minutes. They have improved the weather forecast to 80% chance of launch, so that’s good news!

Update 5:45pm EST:

shuttle-sunset.jpgThe countdown continues, with the weather forecast still holding at 70%. Everyone keeps looking at the two guys from the 45th Weather Squadron who are here in the press center monitoring all of the conditions, trying to read their minds and get a sense if it’s positive or negative. The crew has finished all of their “comm checks” (communication checks with Houston to verify each astronaut’s headset is working), and now they wait. The sun just set in a brilliant glow behind the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

—Image Credit: Susan Poulton

Update 4:30pm EST:

The crew is currently entering the shuttle after arriving at the launch pad and doing a traditional cursory inspection of the shuttle from the ground. The walk out occurred on time at 4:05pm EST with the crew pausing for a moment for photos before entering the astrovan. This is the same doorway that crew have departed from since the days of Gemini and Apollo, and the van is a updated version of the traditional Airstream trailer.


The crew departs for the launch pad after being suited up in their pressure suits. From left to right: Sandra Magnus, Shane Kimbrough, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Steve Bowen, Donald Pettit, Eric Boe, and Chris Ferguson. Image Credit: Susan Poulton

A combination of media, family, friends, and NASA employees cheered them on as they departed for the launch pad.


—Image Credit: Susan Poulton

Update 2:30pm EST:

The shuttle completed tanking (filling of the external fuel tank with liquid hydrogen and oxygen) at 1:31pm EST, another step in the countdown. I’m leaving now to go photograph the crew walking out and will post photos when I return. The main concern weather-wise is that after sunset, storm clouds may form in the 20-mile launch perimeter. Only time will tell.

Update 1:30pm EST:

I’m sitting in the NASA Press Center at T-minus 3 hours and holding. It’s actually over 6 hours away from launch, but the countdown clock includes all the built in holds where they stop the clock at scheduled points to check weather conditions and get the “go” for launch from all the team members.

I’ve hit my first snag on site, the wireless internet is down so I’m on a dial up modem. Haven’t done that in a while! As I said, there’s always something new to experience down here.


—Image Credit: Susan Poulton

There’s not much activity here yet, since it’s early in the day. The first big event for the media is the crew walk out, scheduled for 4:05pm EST. At 2:30pm, we gather by buses to have all our equipment checked and then we go over to where they are suiting up the crew. After an hour of waiting, the crew walks out in their orange suits to the Air Stream trailer “astrovan” that is the traditional transportation that has been used since the first Mercury flights. It’s a special moment, because we are the last group of people they see before heading over to the launch pad, with the exception of the people on the van and the Close Out Crew who seal them into the shuttle.

I’ll be heading over there in one hour and will post photos and an update as soon as I have them. We are still 70% go for launch at this time, but the weather concerns that have been present all week have not improved. So for now, we’re still go for a launch at 7:55pm EST tonight.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what the “T” stands for in “T-minus,” it’s “Time”—can’t put anything over on these guys! It basically stands for a certain time, minus the time counting down to get there.