NASA Opens Roads For Wednesday's Launch Closed Since 2001
NASA's long-held plan
for return to flight probably won't be delayed by Hurricane Dennis,
but certainly won't be put off track by terrorists, agency
officials indicated Friday.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Michael Braukus of NASA HQ
public affairs in DC said, "...we're just back to more or less ...
normal operations" with respect to security around the expected
media presence, and other prelaunch security precautions. He
indicated that the British bomb attacks of July 7th would not
influence NASA's security plans.
After September 11, 2001, NASA tightened access to the Kennedy
Space Center, closing many access roads once used by launch
tourists and disappointing those who flocked to northeastern
Florida for the spectacular launches.
The ill-fated Columbia mission of January 2003 was under even
more unprecedented security, partly because an Israeli astronaut,
Ilan Ramon, was a member of the crew. For example, NASA kept the
launch time secret until within a day of launch, and even media
photographers were kept at a very great distance from the launch
Ramon and his American crewmates perished in February, 2003, not
through an act of terrorism, but because overlooked damage to the
orbiter's insulating tiles allowed superheated gases to weaken the
orbiter structure to the point of failure. The shuttle system has
been grounded ever since, disrupting the International Space
Station and many other planned space missions, while NASA went
through a familiar cycle of investigation, recrimination, and
modification, which has repeated itself at intervals since the 1967
Apollo 1 fire.
This year's launch sees
NASA viewing the terrorist threat in proportion. "Whatever
restrictions we had in place post-9/11 have been eased," Braukus
told the Post.
In contrast to the last launch of Columbia in 2003, Wednesday's
Discovery blast-off is on a schedule announced far in advance: 1551
EDT. (Nine minutes to four, for you Air Force vets. For you
Marines, the big hand is on the 51...) and, in a decision sure to
be welcomed by spectators, many of the roads closed for post-2001
launches will be open this time.
There will still be low-key measures in place, including
military security support, and metal detectors at the Kennedy Space
Center Visitor Complex.
NASA has provided some suggestions for good launch and landing
viewing at this web page.
Veteran shuttle commander Eileen Collins, who will manually fly
the challenging Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver while the orbiter is in
close proximity to the ISS, commands the crew of STS-0114. The
pilot is another veteran, Jim Kelly. Mission specialists Charlie
Camarda, Wendy Lawrence, Soichi Noguchi, Steve Robinson, and Andy
Thomas round out the crew; all are vets of multiple shuttle flights
except for first-timers Camarda and Noguchi (a Japanese Aerospace
Exploration Agency astronaut). The original plan for using 114 to
transfer ISS crews was cancelled after the loss of Columbia;
instead, Discovery will dock with the ISS to transfer cargo, to
take off trash, and to allow inspection of the orbiter