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May-June 2010

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Weatherscapes

Florida's “Space Coast”

Amood of anticipation hung thickly over a crowd of media early on the morning of February 7, 2010. A crowd gathered around the large outdoor countdown clock at Kennedy Space Center. The massive Vehicle Assembly Building was adorned with the NASA insignia and the American flag. All present silently gazed toward Pad 39A, three miles distant, sitting at the vertex of a brilliant “V” cut into the night by powerful xenon strobes. Poised on the launch pad was Space Shuttle Endeavour, just minutes from launching six crew members and 39,000 pounds of payload to the International Space Station. The crowd shivered from a cold, stiff north wind. Above them, veteran astronaut Chris Ferguson flew a specially modified Gulfstream jet, while reporting the weather conditions Endeavour would have to penetrate. While forecasters initially put the “go” chances at 80 percent, low-level clouds thickened. Approximately nine minutes before scheduled launch (the final scheduled “night” launch of the shuttle program), the words “no-go” echoed through the darkness. Once again, the skies proved to be the final decision-maker for a space launch. STS-130, the fifth to the last of all Shuttle missions, would be re-tried the following morning.

ED DARACK is an independent writer and photographer. His latest book is Victory Point, published by The Penguin Group; visit his Web site at www.darack.com.

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