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STS-95

STS-95

  My photographs as an STS-95 press correspondent.  Photo Credits: Mine
The setting sun and Launch Complex 39B the night before launch
The setting sun at launch complex 39B the night before launch
The Shuttle Training Aircraft practices touchdowns at sunset
The Shuttle Training Aircraft practices touchdowns at the sunset before launch
Discovery at sunset the night before launch.
Discovery at twilight illuminated by the xenon spot lights
Me waiting for sundown at STS-95 launch site.
A closer view of Discovery on PAD 39B
I'm waiting for sunset at the STS-95 launch site
A closer view of Discovery on Pad 39B
Discovery from the crawler way the night before the launch
A view of Discovery from the crawler way the night before the launch
A closeup view of Discovery at night
A night time view of the Rotating Service Structure
A close-up view of Discovery at night
A night time view of the Rotating Service Structure
Sunrise on launch day
Sunrise at the Press Site on the day of the launch
NASA security helicopter flies overhead.
The STS-95 crew heads out to the Pad 39B
Security was extremely high for STS-95
The STS-95 crew heads out to the launch pad
Astroanut inteviewed by the press.
Baseball legend Ted Williams draws a huge crowd.
One of many astronaut interviews at the press site
Baseball legend Ted Williams draws a huge crowd
Liftoff of STS-95 with John Glenn's return to space
Liftoff of STS-95 and John Glenn's return to flight
Riding a pillar of flame
Riding a pillar of flame into the sky
Astronaut Steve Robinson autographed my STS-95 launch photo
STS-95 astronaut Steve Robinson autographed this photo that I took of the STS-95 launch
Arching over towards orbit.
Discovery arches over towards orbit.
A picture perfect launch on a beautiful day.
A picture perfect launch on a beautiful day
Monday August 3, 1998

I received an email today from my friend Sumio Morioka.  Sumio lives in Japan and is someone with whom I became acquainted with through our common interest in space exploration.

Sumio invited me to participate in covering the launch of John Glenn on STS-95 in October as a correspondent for a Japanese computer magazine.

Seeing this launch in person from the press site is something that I would really like to do.  Leading up to this flight, it is also something that I did not think would be possible.  John Glenn's second launch has generated tremendous interest by the new media.  I assumed that it would be impossible to obtain press credentials with this media circus.

It did not take long for me to respond to Sumio and let him know that I would like to be included as part of his press contingent.  Sumio said that he would handle the request for the press passes.  My job is to find us motel accommodations.

This unexpected opportunity has also opened up a window for a vacation for my wife Mary and my granddaughter Lexie.   Lexie is three and one half years old now.  She has become fascinated by the wonderful world of Disney.

If Lexie finds a penny or a dime on the street, she will say that she is going to put it in her piggy bank so that she can go to Disney World.  A trip to Disney in October 1998 might just be what the doctor ordered.  In October, it will be the one-year anniversary from when my father passed away.  A vacation will be a welcome distraction from that anniversary.


Friday August 7, 1998

I received a copy of the fax that Sumio sent to the KSC Press Office requesting credentials for us.  I really am indebted to Sumio for doing this.  It is such a relief for me to not have to deal with making the request.

Now, the big question will be to find out if we are approved.  Evidence of the crush of news media expected to attend this launch is that NASA has set a deadline of August 14, for requests to be made to cover the October 29th launch.

In the past it was possible to submit a request within one week of the launch and still get approved.  Time will tell if we make it.

Even Walter Cronkite is coming out of retirement for this launch.  He is going to be a correspondent for CNN.

Monday August 17, 1998

The STS-95 trip is GO.   The NASA Public Affairs Office has acknowledged that they have received our accreditation request. They have also said that every thing appears to be in order.  All that is needed now, is an on time liftoff.

The travel arrangements have been made.  The launch is scheduled for Thursday afternoon, so I will fly in on Wednesday.  Mary and Lexie will be flying into Orlando on Friday evening so that we can spend four days at Disney World.

At Disney World, we are going to stay on property at the Grand Floridian Hotel.  It is a Victorian era styled hotel and is supposed to be one of the best at Disney.  Since the Disney monorail services the hotel, it will be very convenient for returning back to the room, if Lexie should get tired during the day.


Monday October 26, 1998

The trip to Orlando for the launch of STS-95 is rapidly approaching.  I am scheduled to leave on Wednesday.

On a very sad note, Mary's maternal grandmother passed away and her funeral is tomorrow Tuesday, October 27th.  We will be driving out to west Texas for the funeral.  Tuesday evening I have a class in advanced operating systems and a programming project is due in that.

Once we get back from the funeral I will have to work on the program until probably at least midnight or later.

I still have not had time to pack for Orlando.  It is shaping up to be a very hectic trip.


Tuesday October 26, 1998

The funeral for Mary's grandmother actually went better than I had expected.  Mary had been estranged from her grandmother for nearly 21 years.  Based upon that I was not sure how the reception would be by Mary's grandfather.  I had never met Mr. Murphy, so I was somewhat apprehensive.

As it turned out, the reunion of Mary with her grandfather was wonderful. Mr. Murphy welcomed me to the family with open arms.  It was very touching.

Tuesday night I had my advanced operating systems class.  I had not been pleased with the instructor for this class. I have not had enough time to complete the programming project. In light of those issues, I have chosen to withdraw from the class, and retake it another time.

That decision at least has freed me up to pack for the trip to Orlando.  My plan is to travel with two large suitcases.  These suitcases should hold all of Mary's and Lexie's items as well as my own.  By doing that it would be an easier trip for Mary traveling with a three year old later in the week.

I started becoming very apprehensive about the crowd that would be coming to the Space Coast for the launch.  I had read stories that there were 4,000 press credentials being issued for this launch.  With number of people I believed that attending the crew walkout was out of the question.  I still however wanted to do the Rotating Service Structure rollback photo opportunity if there was one.

The photo opportunity was scheduled for 8:00 PM on Wednesday and my flight was scheduled to arrive in Orlando at 12:41 PM.  I began to wonder if even that would be enough time to get over to the KSC Press Site.

Due to this apprehension, I have decided to attempt to fly standby to Orlando.  That way, I can try to get on the first flight out of the airport in the morning.  The first flight is at 6:30 AM, which of course means waking up at around 4:30 AM.

Wednesday October 26, 1998

Getting to the airport at this time of the morning proved to be very easy.  There were no problems with traffic at all.  Getting on to the flight as a standby passenger also was not difficult.  By taking this early flight I would get to Orlando at 10:00 AM and save myself nearly three hours.


The flight was uneventful.  Several people on the flight were going to Florida in order to view the launch.  Collecting my luggage at baggage claim was the next major hurdle.  I was very concerned about how I would maneuver two large suitcases along with two separate camera bags.  It turned out that close to the luggage conveyors, there were luggage cars that you could rent for $2.  That was definitely the best $2 that I had spent in a long time.

A bigger challenge was getting the luggage onto the bus that took me to the off airport car rental location.  That was not easy, but I did manage to get it all on.  The bus was packed with people.

Once I got to the rental car site, I found out that the car rental lounge was also packed with people.  There was a queue of people so long that it took me 45 minutes before I finally got to the rental counter.  The biggest problem with this mass of humanity was that I had to abandon my luggage in the customer seating area. I had visions of returning to find both of my suitcases gone, but I had little choice in the matter.  There was no way to drag my luggage through the rental queue.

I finally got through the queue and got my rental car arranged.  I went back to the seating area to collect my luggage and thankfully it was still there.  I am firmly convinced that the reason that thieves did not cart off my luggage is that it was too heavy for them to move.

The car to which I was assigned was located in the Timbuktu section of the parking lot.  I had to wait for an employee of Alamo that was none too friendly to haul my bags and me over to the car.  All the time that I was at this rental agency I felt the clock ticking down.  I couldn't wait until I was at the KSC badging office to presumably wait in another queue for my credentials.

The rental car to which I was assigned was a total pig.  It looked as if someone had used it for a fraternity party and I wasn't invited.  They didn't even clean the cigarette ashes out of my non-smoking car.  I would have gone back to the rental lounge to complain, but there was no way I was wading through that mass of humanity again.  I accepted the car and accepted the fact that I would never ever rent with Alamo Rental Cars again.

With the hassle of renting a car behind me, I headed out on the Beeline Expressway towards KSC.  I approached KSC from the west and the first thing I noticed about this launch was that security was significantly tighter than it had been for STS-84.


At the main entrance to KSC, security guards were stopping all cars.  The guards would look around at the inside of your car to make sure that there was nothing suspicious in there.  The guard told me that the visitor's center was a couple of miles down the road.  I explained to the guard that my destination was not the visitor's center but rather the KSC badging office so that I could pick up my press credentials.

The guard asked me if I knew where the office was.  With this being my second mission, I was a veteran press correspondent.  I casually rattled off the directions to the office.  With that I was given the go ahead by the guard to proceed.

The KSC Public Affairs Personnel had set up a remote parking site for the press.  This remote site would be utilized if the demand became too great for parking at the press center itself.  As I drove by this remote parking site I noted that there were no vehicles there, other than the shuttle bus.  That indicated to me that I would still be able to drive directly to the press center once that I had picked up my credentials at the badging office.

Once I arrived at the badging office, I was shocked to find that it was not very crowded at all. Either I was late, or else the crush of news media personnel had not yet arrived in Florida.  There were about 5 people in the office picking up their badges when I got there.  About another 5 people showed up before I left.

I filled out the request form and handed it with my photo ID to the lady behind the counter.  Before long I had in my possession my STS-95 chartreuse press credential with my name on it. It was a big relief to me to actually receive the badge.  I always have the fear that some bureaucratic mix up will arise and shut me out from the launch.

With my credentials, I could now drive up to the press site itself.  There was a security checkpoint that I had to go through right by the badging building.  With credentials in hand, this was a more routine stop.  I drove up Highway 3 towards the VAB and the Launch Control Complex where the press center was.


Another security checkpoint was located about mid way up Highway 3.  This is the normal checkpoint for entering the area of the Launch Control Complex.  It was another routine stop for me.

At the press site at the Launch Control Complex, I noticed that an overflow parking lot had been created over near the VAB.  This extra lot was setup to handle the large number of news media that they expected for the coverage of this launch.

To my surprise I had to once again stop and show my badge and photo ID before I was even allowed access to the parking lot.  That was another indication to me that the security level was significantly higher for this mission than it was for the last mission that I had covered.

At the press site it was not long before I met up with my friend Sumio and his friends from Japan.  Everyone was excited, as we anticipated the launch of an American Hero.  My Japanese friends had an additional reason to be excited.  Chiaki Mukai, a Japanese astronaut, would also be flying on this mission.  For my Japanese friends, that may have been even more exciting than John Glenn.

 We checked in at the Public Affairs Office and we were set for the 8:00 PM photo opportunity to photograph the shuttle on the launch pad.  This would not be a roll back of the RSS, but rather a sunset event.  The location from which we would photograph the launch pad would have the sunset as a backdrop.

The time approached for us to head over to the parking lot to prepare to board the buses for the photo opportunity.  There was a huge throng of photographers and there were several buses lined up.

Before we were allowed to board the buses, we were instructed to line up in front of them.  We were told to place our bags three feet in front of us and then step back.  We then waited as a security person toting a machine gun walked along the line of our bags with a police dog.  This dog was obviously trained to detect explosives.


It is a strange feeling to be standing in a line with security guards looking you over as they carry machine guns.  You hope that the dog has a keen sense of smell that day and isn't suffering from the same allergies that you are.

After the inspection was complete we were told to get on a bus.  We were also told that once we got on a bus we had to stay on the bus.  If we got off for any reason we would not be allowed to get back on the bus.

I had wished that I had brought my camera tripod with me, but there was no way that I was going to go to the car to retrieve it at this point.  One arrogant journalist did get off of the bus.  Much to my surprise, he was allowed back on without any hassle. It took a while for all of the buses to get loaded so we remained parked there for some time.

We then drove towards the launch pads.  STS-95 would be launching from pad 39-B.  This would be the first time for me to see a vehicle on this launch pad.

When we got over to the spot for our photo opportunity, the bus driver recommended that we put on mosquito repellent.  He said that the mosquitoes could get really bad here at sundown. Of course I had not thought about that and was unprepared.  The bus driver however was kind enough to let me put on some of his mosquito repellent.

The view of Discovery on the launch pad was spectacular.  With the sun going down, this view was worth the trip even if the shuttle did not launch tomorrow. The Xenon searchlights highlighted the shuttle on the pad while other features in the area faded to silhouette.

Photographers snapped photo after photo of the sunset.  Some of the photographers finally gave up and headed back on to the bus. No doubt they surrendered to the flocks of mosquitoes.

It became darker and darker.  Finally, I realized that it was futile for me to take more photos without a tripod. The lighting conditions required too long of an exposure.  I also retreated to the comfort of the air-conditioned bus.


The bus took us back to the press site.  From there we left to go check into our motel rooms. The rooms that I had reserved were straight south on Highway 3.  After a late dinner, we retired for the evening.

Thursday morning we got up early to be the rush of news media heading out to the press site. Once again we were able to avoid parking in the remote parking site.

The atmosphere at the press site was unlike anything I had seen before.  This time it took on more of the feel of a county fair. Tents were set up all over the press site grounds and people were everywhere.  Celebrities and astronauts were milling about with the reporters.  The only thing missing from this carnival was a Ferris wheel and people hawking cotton candy and smoked turkey legs.

I noticed an interview tent set up where astronauts Janice Voss and Julie Payete were being interviewed.  They were wearing their blue flight coveralls.  Also in his blue flight coveralls Astronaut Dave Wolf walked by.

Like a tourist himself, Wolf carried a small personnel camera. A very nice looking blonde woman accompanied Wolf.  With Wolf’s reputation for partying, I think she was getting a better tour than we were.

In order to rest our legs, Sumio, his friends, and I took a seat in the press grandstand. While we were seated there, I noticed the second man to walk on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin, stroll by.

As the launch time approached, Sumio and his friend headed over to a viewing spot next to the water in front of the flags at the press site.  I chose to view the launch from a location near the water and about 100 feet to the left of the countdown clock.

It seemed like everyone who was anyone was there.  Even singer Jimmy Buffet was roaming around the press site covering the launch for God knows what margarita bar.

It was time for the crew walkout, but I chose not to even attempt to attend it.  I assumed that there was no way that I would muscle my way into that with all of these professional reporters in attendance.  Later I found out from my friend Sumio that he actually did attend the walkout.  He said that all you had to do was show up in the parking lot and get on a bus.  Oh well, the carnival at the press site may have been more interesting anyway.


I noticed a huge throng of press over by the grandstand congregated around someone.  Surely this must be some well-respected astronaut.  I headed over to the throng to see what the interest was.  When I got there, I realized it wasn't an astronaut at all.  

Rather it was former baseball star Ted Williams.  Williams had flown fighter jets with John Glenn in Korea and that is why he was attending the launch.  I tried to get a photograph of Williams, but with the throng of people I only got a picture of his head.  That was an ironic photo, considering that after Mr. Williams passed away, his head became an item of contention between the members of his family.

Disappointed that it was only a sports legend and not someone more appropriate like Neil Armstrong, I returned to my viewing location next to the water.   I noticed that a photographer who had set up shop next to me had an array of cameras.  He mounted these cameras on a custom tripod.  With one click he could fire off several cameras with auto winders to record the launch.  With my solitary Canon-A1 and a video camera, I felt woefully inadequate.

There was more evidence of the extreme security measures in place.  A NASA Huey helicopter was flying overhead.  The side doors on this helicopter were open and standing in these doors were security personnel with helmets and M-16 rifles.  On the roof of the VAB there were snipers.  Yes, this launch had a lot of scrutiny.

Another security issue associated with this launch was that President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary would be attending.  I saw a very long motorcade of black sports utility vehicles, and black cars drive towards the Launch Control Center.  This was the entourage for President Clinton. 

The Clinton’s would be watching the launch with Astronaut Eileen Collins from the roof of the Launch Control Center.  The Clinton's, after all, had a vested interest in this launch.  Without Bill Clinton's intervention, it is unlikely that NASA would have ever flown John Glenn again.  Yes, Senator Glenn was about to receive the ultimate political pay back.

I turned around and looked back at the mass of press congregated for the launch.  It was unbelievable.  KSC had not seen the likes of this since July of 1969.

The clock counted down and a flicker of flame was seen down below the space shuttle Discovery.  Huge white clouds of steam began billowing up and out from the sides of the launch pad.  It was obvious that the water sound suppression system was doing its job.

When the shuttle main engines came up to the required thrust level, the solid rocket boosters were ignited. John Glenn was returning to space 36 years after his first flight.   As a sentimental gesture, NASA had Scott Carpenter make the call of the launch.  Carpenter, after all, was the astronaut who called Glenn's original launch in Friendship 7.

This was my fourth shuttle launch to witness and it was spectacular.  Each and every launch was different for me as lighting conditions have a great impact on the view.  Night launches are special but so are launches in the bright afternoon sun.   The view of the cloud left behind by the SRBs in the sunlight is awe inspiring in its own right.

As always the launch is over and done with much too quickly once those SRBs are lit.  All one could do now was revel in the excitement.  I rejoined my Japanese friends and we had our pictures taken with the empty launch pad in the background.


We attended the post launch briefing in the press center briefing room.  I was surprised that we were able to get in there.  Apparently the intense interest by the news media was already waning.  The big story was the launch itself and not the subsequent mission.

The post launch briefing was pretty interesting.  In one of the close up camera views of liftoff, a cover was seeing falling away from Discovery as it rose from the launch pad.  This cover was identified to be the cover that protected the parachute mechanism on the back of the vehicle.

Was this a serious situation?  The members of the press probed and probed, but the officials from NASA did not seem too concerned.

The crowd dwindled away from the press site.  The carnival was over.  The tents started coming down.  Surely by now Jimmy Buffet was already drifting away in Margarita Ville.

We left the press site and headed down Highway 3 towards our motel.  We experienced no unusual traffic driving in that direction.   In fact it didn't take us any longer to reach our motel after the launch than it did the day before.

I turned the television on in my motel and the coverage showed a tremendous traffic jam heading west from KSC.  We were very fortunate that our destination was south instead of west.  Two hours after the launch, the traffic going west was still at a standstill.

Sumio, his friends, and I decided to go out to dinner together tonight.  We drove towards Cocoa Beach in search of a restaurant.  Nothing that we passed looked all that exciting.  We finally passed through the entire business district of Cocoa Beach and decided to turn around.

As we headed north, there appeared to be an interesting restaurant on the left side of the road.  It was called "The Mango Tree".  I suggested to Sumio that we try out this place.  We parked and headed into the restaurant.  It was a very upscale place and it would have been better if we had reservations.  They offered to accommodate us at the bar if we wanted to eat there.  That was fine with us; we were still awash in the after glow from the launch.

The Mango Tree, in my opinion is the finest dining available in Cocoa Beach.  The food is great and the atmosphere is fabulous.

Since we were sitting at the bar, we had a good view of the patrons as they walked in the door.  I was stunned to see Buzz Aldrin and his wife enter this establishment.

Buzz and his wife were stood no more than 8 feet away from us as they waited for their table.  I pointed out Aldrin to Sumio and his friends.  They were shocked that a man who walked on the Moon was standing there while he waited for a table.

This was a fitting nightcap after a perfect day where we witnessed John Glenn’s return to space.


Friday, October 30, 1998

I picked up Mary and Lexie at the airport.  Mary had thought that Lexie would go to sleep with the early flight.  Much to Mary's surprise, 3-year-old Lexie talked her ear off for the whole flight.

Tonight, Mary, Lexie, and I went to dinner with Sumio and his friends.  We decided to go to Rusty's at Port Canaveral that has become a favorite hangout of Mary and me.

After dinner we got back to the motel and Sumio was in a panic.  He had forgotten his bag containing his money and passport at the restaurant.  I had Mary call to ask the restaurant to hold the bag and I drove Sumio back over to the restaurant.  Everything of Sumio's was still intact and he was very relieved to retrieve his items.

We said good-bye to Sumio and his friends.  Mary, Lexie, and I would head to Disney World, the next day.


Saturday, October 31, 1998

Mary, Lexie, and I checked in to the Grand Floridian Hotel.  What a fabulous hotel this was. It was the ultimate in luxury.

Since tonight was Halloween, we took Lexie trick or treating at Downtown Disney. We could not let this vacation get in the way of trick or treating.

Lexie is a big fan of the Wizard of Oz.  In fact, when people ask her who she is, she will tell them that she is Dorothy Gale from Kansas.  It should be no surprise that Lexie was going to be Dorothy Gale for Halloween.  Lexie dressed in a blue-checkered dress, ruby slippers, and dark pigtails.  She carried a small basket with Toto.

Mary and I have also been awarded parts in the Land of Oz by Lexie.  Lexie calls me her friend the scarecrow and she calls Mary, the cowardly lion.  Not wanting to be left out on the fun of Halloween, Mary and I also dressed up in costume.   I was the scarecrow and Mary as the Lion. Our outfits were complete even down to the point of painting our faces.

We rode the bus over to Downtown Disney and trick or treated there.  For the most part the stores only gave out stickers.  That was a little disappointing with all of the hype that Disney placed on this event.  We ended up and purchased some candy for Lexie at the candy shop.  No doubt, this was the evil plan of Michael Eisner all along.

It was getting late and we took the bus back to our hotel.  With our costumes on, we walked through the Grand Floridian Hotel towards our room. As we passed one of the restaurants the Disney workers gave us a standing ovation.


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UPDATED : January 10, 2007
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