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AC-128
STS-84
AC-135
STS-86

STS-84

  The photographs were taken by me as a press correspondent for the launch of STS-84.
Photo Credits: Mine
Waiting for RSS rollback
Atlantis is unveiled at RSS rollback.
Waiting for RSS rollback
Atlantis becomes visible during RSS rollback
""Grumpy" keeps a watchful eye on the clock STS-84 crew out for a pre-launch drive.
"Grumpy" keeps a watchful eye on the clock.
STS-84 crew out for a pre-launch drive.
Atlantis poised for launch on PAD 39A.
Atlantis is poised for launch on PAD 39A
Jerry on the crawler way the day before launch
Atlantis is Go!
I'm on the crawler way the day before launch!
A close up view of Atlantis
The astrovan waits for the crew to board.
STS-84 crew prepares to board the astrovan.
The astrovan waits to take the crew to the pad
Command Precourt leads the STS-84 crew out.
Astronaut Collins climbs on board the astrovan.
Pilot Eileen Collins boards the van followed by Charlie Precourt, Elena Kondakova and Carlos Noriga
Liftoff of Atlantis on STS-84.
Atlantis comes into view from behind the Rotating Service Structure
Atlantis brings an early sunrise tothe Florida coast.
Atlantis brings an early sunrise to the Florida coast
Me, Bob, and Andy at the Press Site
Loren Shriver at the post launch press convference.
Me, Bob, and Andy at the press site before launch Loren Shriver at the post launch press conference
March 1997

Andy Clews, a friend who lives in England, decided to travel to the United States for a vacation.  After corresponding over email for many years, this gave us an opportunity to finally meet in person.

Andy has had a life long interest in space exploration and it is through that that we share a common bond.

Andy's hope was to tour the Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center during his vacation. 

I was enrolled in a computer science class at the University of Texas at Dallas at the time.  I asked Andy that he delay the start of his trip until after I was finished with my final exams.  That way I was able to devote more time to his visit.

As I was looking at the timing of Andy's visit, it seemed to me that we might have a good opportunity to watch the launch of space shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-84. 

I recommended this to Andy and he was excited about the possibility.   I also posed the option to Andy of covering this launch as a member of the news media.

Through my school newspaper, The UTD Mercury,  I was able to request press credentials for the launch.  Andy believed that he could make a request through a flying magazine that his brother is associated with.

My own brother, Bob,  had expressed an interest to me about attending a space shuttle launch someday.  I offered Bob the chance to join Andy and I in Florida and he accepted.

Bob worked for Ford Motor Company and believed he could apply for accreditation through the Ford travel magazine.

The three of us faxed our separate accreditation requests to the Public Affairs Office at the Kennedy Space Center.  I was very apprehensive that we might not be granted access.  I had never tried to do this before, so it was uncharted territory.

As a backup plan, I wrote a letter to the Kennedy Space Center to request a pass to view the launch with the general public from the causeway.  This causeway pass would provide us with a contingency plan should our request for press accreditation fall short.


April 1997

I received a causeway viewing pass in the mail for viewing the launch of STS-84.  Our contingency plan for viewing the launch was secure.

May 1997

There was great news today.   Finally after what seemed like an eternity, Andy, Bob, and I  found out that we had been approved for press credentials.

Now all we needed was a great deal of luck for an on time launch of space shuttle Atlantis.

Having a space shuttle launch on a specific day is a precarious situation at best.  There are too many factors that can delay such a complex venture.

I was very lucky on my  previous launch viewing attempts.  I witnessed two out of two shuttle launches and three out of three unmanned rocket launches that I attempted to see.

My good fortune of multiple types of launch opportunities held on this trip.  An unmanned Delta was scheduled to launch during the time that we would be in Florida.  That schedule of the Delta doubled our possibilities of at least seeing some rocket fly.

May 8,1997

Andy arrived at the DFW airport at around 9:00 PM.  It was great to finally be able to meet Andy in person.

May 10,1997

To satisfy the first goal of Andy's trip to the US, Andy, Chris Seaman, and I drove down to Houston.  There we were able to tour the Johnson Space Center.

While we were in Houston, there also happened to be a special exhibit of Soviet space artifacts at the Nassau Bay City Hall.  It was a very interesting exhibit that had artifacts from the early cosmonauts including Gagarin, Leonov, and Tereshkova.

One of the artifacts that I saw grabbed my attention.  It was a small presentation box constructed out of wood and lined with blue velvet.  In this box was a pentagonal medallion that was identical to the commemorative medallions that on the moon with the very first Soviet lunar landing.

The description of the this artifact was intriguing to me.  Sergei Korolev, the father of the Soviet space program, personally presented this medallion to Yuri Gagarin after the completion of Gagarin's spaceflight.

The reason that I found this so intriguing was that I have the exact same type of presentation piece in my collection.  The one that I have came from the estate of Cosmonaut Pavel Belayev.  Belayev was the commander of Voskhod II.

Could Korolev have presented this medallion directly to Belayev?  I think it is very likely.  I had always liked that piece since I obtained it and now it took on more significance for me.

After our tour of the Johnson Space Center, we stopped in for a drink at the Outpost Tavern.  No trip to the Johnson Space Center is complete without a visit to the Outpost.  It is deeply intertwined with the history of the Johnson Space Center.

I will not describe the Outpost in this journal entry.  That is a story best left for its own journal entry.  Suffice it to say; in contrast with the vacuum of space, the Outpost has a lot of atmosphere.  On this night blues musician W.C. Clark and his band were performing live at the Outpost.


May 13, 1997

It was time for Andy and I to fly to Florida for the launch.  My family would not join me on this trip.  After all this was not a vacation, I was working as a member of the press.  Bob flew down to Florida separately and greeted Andy and me when we arrived at the airport.

Our instructions from the Public Affairs Office were that we should pick up our press credentials at the office at the south entrance to KSC on State Highway 3. I felt a great deal of anxiety that even after all of this preparation, there would be some mix up that would prevent us from receiving our credentials.

In the office it was a simple matter to identify ourselves, sign a form and receive our press badge.  Receiving those badges was a tremendous relief to me.  That was a major hurdle that we had to clear.

The next item on our agenda was to check the launch status from the KSC Press Center.  We drove towards the Press Center and stopped at the security checkpoint to have our credentials verified.  Security checked our badges and waved us through the checkpoint.

I know the emotions of elation that I felt.  I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to Andy and Bob.  Neither one of them had even been to the Kennedy Space Center before. Now, here they were as members of the news media to cover a manned rocket launch!

At that point, my biggest fear was that the launch would not happen when we were in Florida.  I felt responsible for this expedition.  I was after all the person who suggested it.  I had seen launches before, so missing this one is something that I could deal with.  However I would have felt devastated for Andy and Bob if they missed it.  After all, this might be the one and only shuttle launch opportunity that they have.

We parked the car and walked over to the Press Center.  The countdown clock was stationary at T minus 11 hours and holding.  There were some people around the site, but at this point is was fairly sparse.

Our first order of business was to sign up for the Press photo opportunities that were available.  There were a few clipboards on a counter that had some of these sign up lists.  One list was for the photo opportunity for the roll back of the Rotating Service Structure at the launch pad.  We added our names to this list.

The most important list that I wanted to get signed up on was the list for the crew walkout.  The crew walkout is the event where the astronauts leave the building in which they had donned their spacesuits.  The shuttle crew then boards the van that will take them out to the launch pad.

I had heard that this list is in high demand and fills up early. I wanted to make sure we got signed up on this as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, I did not see the clipboard for this list on the counter with the rest of the lists.  Was this list already full?  There was an older gentleman with a gray beard sitting behind the counter at the Press office.  He was slight in stature and had a very gruff demeanor.  I believe this man was a retired KSC worker who now was only called in for duty at launches.

I asked the man where the sign up list was for the crew walkout.  He grumbled and pulled out a clipboard from beneath the counter.  There were a few spots remaining on the list, so I asked him if we could sign up.  He grumbled again and responded that only one person per news organization could sign up.  That was fine with us.  Andy, Bob, and I all represented different organizations. 

We explored the Press Center and got our bearings as we waited for the first photo opportunity. That photo opportunity would be the roll back of the Rotating Service Structure.  This structure encloses the vehicle at the launch pad and is rolled back to expose the shuttle several hours before launch.  The roll back was scheduled to begin at 10 AM on May 14, 1997.

May 13, 1997

We boarded a bus that would take us out near the launch pad. The old man with the gray beard turned out to be our PAO escort on the photo opportunity.  Bob nicknamed him “Grumpy”.  Based on his appearance and demeanor, Grumpy was certainly an appropriate name.

The buses parked on a grassy field a few thousand feet away from the launch pad and to its right side.  The members of the news media poured out of the two buses and set up shop with tripods and cameras to record the event.  It was an awe inspiring site to be this close to the launch pad so near the time of launch.

Shutters clicked and video rolled as we waited for movement of the structure. A television crew was filming near me.  They were recording a reporter who had a decidedly British accent. He was reporting for the Sky News channel.

Astronaut Michael Foale who would be launching on this mission was originally from the United Kingdom.  The reporter kept referring to Foale as “NASA’s Mr. Fixit.”  After several retakes of this report, that line sounded rather comical.

NASA’s Mr. Fixit was going to live on the Russian space station Mir for an extended duration.  Foale would be replacing US astronaut Jerry Linenger.  During Linenger’s mission there was no end to the problems encountered with the aging space station.  The most serious of the problems included a hazardous fire.

As we waited a white convertible drove by along the road over to the launch pad. In this convertible were members of the STS-84 crew.  They would take a last look at the vehicle into which they would soon strap in.

Finally the behemoth service structure began rolling away from the vehicle. Now we could start to see not only the external tank and solid rocket boosters, but also the space shuttle Atlantis itself. In a precision operation the structure rolled away very slowly.

Once the motion of the vehicle stopped, we were loaded back on to the buses, which drove us over to the front of the launch pad.  Here we were allowed to walk across the road over to the rock-covered crawler way that leads to the pad.

On the crawler way, the tracks left behind by the crawler hauling the launch vehicle to the pad were quite evident.  Standing on rock crushed by a vehicle about to be launched into space was like standing on hallowed ground.  I almost felt the need to remove my shoes out of respect.  To a lifelong follower of the space program, this indeed was the Promised Land.

The view from the front of the launch pad was even better than it was from the side.  We were now only about a thousand feet away from the vehicle.  We got some great photographs from this vantage point.

The photo op ended and we rode the buses back to the Press Center.  There would not be much for us to see until much later in the night, so we left the Press Center.

Our next major event would be the crew walkout and that was scheduled to occur at 12:42 AM.  We decided that we would head back to the Press Center at around 11:00 PM.  When we arrived back at the Press Center we found that the countdown had been proceeding smoothly.
May 15, 1997

It was time to board the bus that would take us over to the building for the crew walkout.  Some of the photographers on this bus even brought along stepladders.  These reporters were seasoned veterans who knew what to expect.

Once we had arrived at the suit up building, it was a fairly slow process for us to exit the bus.  Security would only allow 5 people off of the bus at one time. You were required to put your camera bags on the ground and wait for a security dog to sniff each bag. The dog searching for hazardous materials.

After the dog’s inspection we could pick up our bags and walk over to the viewing area for the walkout.  We were specifically instructed by security to walk and not run as the security dogs might react badly if we ran.

This was serious business.  Several security guards were present and they carried machine guns.  Not only did the guards carry the guns but also their fingers were poised upon the triggers.

The viewing area was roped off and all of the photographers were jockeying for the best viewing position.  Some of the members of the press can be rather arrogant and rude.   I guess it comes with their territory.

One particular trio of rude people was from the European continent. We were not sure from which country they originated. These people were obnoxious and they smelled as if deodorant was illegal in their country. Andy had a nickname for these people.  According to his nickname, all three of them were born out of wedlock.  I shall just refer to them here as he Obnoxious Trio.

It was just my luck that I ended up standing next to the Obnoxious Trio.  A rope was set in place to keep the photographers back and away from the silver van into which the astronauts would enter.  Obeying the rules, I set up my video camera on a tripod just next to the rope barrier.  I did not realize that the Obnoxious Trio would have no respect for rules.

When the crew came out, the Obnoxious Trio pushed the rope well beyond its natural limit and blocked my view of the walkout entirely.  I did the best that I could, but it was hard to get a photo without the back of an unwanted Obnoxious Trio members head.  I began to believe that Andy's supposition about these three people being born out of wedlock was correct.

It was an exciting time. People were whooping and hollering as the crew boarded the van.  Dressed in their orange pumpkin suits, the crew carried themselves with a confident air.  They  did not portray that their lives would soon be on the line  when they would be strapped into the launch vehicle.

To me it was unbelievable that I was able to be this close to a group of people who in just over three hours would be riding a rocket into space.  That almost made it worth putting up with the Obnoxious Trio.

The launch window for STS-84 was set between 4:07 AM and 4:14 AM on May 15, 1997.  The relatively short launch window was dictated by the need to rendezvous with space station MIR on this mission.

Andy and Bob decided that they would watch the launch from the press grandstand.  There were televisions set up there, so they could watch keep up to date on the launch progress.

For myself, I chose to position my cameras near the water directly behind the countdown clock.  I wanted to be as close as I could possibly be to the launch, even if it meant gaining only an extra thousand feet.

Standing next to me were some reporters from France.  STS-84 was truly an international mission as on the crew was not only someone from the UK, but also someone from France, and even Russia.

The clock ticked down and precisely on schedule at 4:07 AM, Atlantis came to life.  What a site that was.  The flames from the rocket engines turned the night into day.

I do not speak French, but I could understand the intent of my French colleagues’ shouts of joy and exultation.  What a grand and glorious view.  This was my first launch to witness from the press site and I must say that it was a much better view than the causeway.

Mean-while back at the grandstand, my normally reserved friend Andy was shouting “Go Baby!”  Andy normally exhibits the stereotypical British stiff upper lip, but the heat from this launch even melted that.

I felt a big sense of relief when Atlantis launched.  It wasn't so much relief  for myself but relief for Andy and Bob.  I would have felt really bad if Andy and Bob had missed seeing the launch. After all, I had seen the shuttle launch before and undoubtedly would do so again.  For Andy and Bob though, this was perhaps a once in a lifetime experience. 


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UPDATED : January 23, 2007
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