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
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
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
The UTD Mercury, I was
request press credentials for the launch. Andy believed that he
could make a request through a flying magazine that his brother is
My own brother,
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.
of us faxed our
separate accreditation requests to the Public Affairs Office at the
Space Center. I was very apprehensive that we might not be
access. I had never tried to do this before, so it was uncharted
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.
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.
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.
Andy arrived at the DFW airport at around 9:00 PM. It was great
be able to meet Andy in person.
To satisfy the
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
reason that I found this so intriguing was that I have the exact
type of presentation piece in my collection. The
one that I have came from the estate of Cosmonaut
Belayev. Belayev was the commander of Voskhod II.
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.
tour of the
Johnson Space Center, we stopped in for a drink at the Outpost
trip to the Johnson Space Center is complete without a visit to the
Outpost. It is deeply intertwined with the history of the Johnson
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.
time for Andy and I
to fly to Florida for the launch. My family would not join me on
After all this was not a vacation, I was working as a member of the
Bob flew down to Florida separately and greeted Andy and me when we
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
3. I felt a great deal of anxiety that even after all of this
there would be some mix up that would prevent us from receiving our
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
Center. We drove towards the Press Center and stopped at the
checkpoint to have our credentials verified. Security
checked our badges and waved us through the
I know the
elation that I felt. I cannot imagine what it must have felt like
and Bob. Neither one of them had even been to the Kennedy Space
before. Now, here they were as members of the news media to cover a
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
missed it. After all, this might be the
one and only shuttle launch opportunity that they have.
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
these sign up lists. One list was for the photo opportunity for
back of the Rotating Service Structure at the launch pad. We
names to this list.
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.
The most important list that I wanted to get signed up on was the list
crew walkout. The crew walkout is the event where the astronauts
the building in which they had donned their spacesuits. The
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
make sure we got signed up on this as soon as possible.
did not see the clipboard for this list on the counter with the rest of
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.
the man where the
sign up list was for the crew walkout. He grumbled and pulled out
clipboard from beneath the counter. There were a few spots
the list, so I asked him if we could sign up. He grumbled again
responded that only one person per news organization could sign
was fine with us. Andy, Bob, and I all represented different
explored the Press Center
and got our bearings as we waited for the first photo opportunity. That
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
launch. The roll back was scheduled to
begin at 10 AM on May 14, 1997.
a bus that would
take us out near the launch pad. The old man with the gray beard turned
be our PAO escort on the photo opportunity. Bob
nicknamed him “Grumpy”. Based on his
appearance and demeanor, Grumpy was certainly
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
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.
clicked and video
rolled as we waited for movement of the structure. A television crew
filming near me. They were recording a
reporter who had a decidedly British accent. He was reporting for the
Michael Foale who
would be launching on this mission was originally from the United
Kingdom. The reporter kept referring to
“NASA’s Mr. Fixit.” After several
retakes of this report, that line sounded rather comical.
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
waited a white
convertible drove by along the road over to the launch pad. In this
were members of the STS-84 crew. They
would take a last look at the vehicle into which they would soon strap
the behemoth service
structure began rolling away from the vehicle. Now we could start to
only the external tank and solid rocket boosters, but also the space
Atlantis itself. In a precision operation the structure rolled away
motion of the
vehicle stopped, we were loaded back on to the buses, which drove us
the front of the launch pad. Here we
were allowed to walk across the road over to the rock-covered crawler
leads to the pad.
crawler way, the
tracks left behind by the crawler hauling the launch vehicle to the pad
quite evident. Standing on rock crushed
by a vehicle about to be launched into space was like standing on
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
and wait for a security dog to sniff each bag. The dog searching for
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
badly if we ran.
business. Several security guards were
present and they carried machine guns. Not
only did the guards carry the guns but also their
poised upon the triggers.
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.
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
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
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.
the crew came out, the Obnoxious
Trio pushed the rope well beyond its natural limit and blocked my view
walkout entirely. I did the best that I
could, but it was hard to get a photo without the back of an unwanted
Trio members head. I began to believe
that Andy's supposition about these three people being born out of
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.
me it was unbelievable
that I was able to be this close to a group of people who in just over
hours would be riding a rocket into space. That
almost made it worth putting up with the Obnoxious
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
rendezvous with space station MIR on this mission.
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.
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.
next to me were
some reporters from France. STS-84 was
truly an international mission as on the crew was not only someone from
but also someone from France, and even Russia.
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.
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
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