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Space Shuttle Discovery Launch Delayed By Weather

Aired July 1, 2006 - 15:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Okay. Hello, and welcome, I'm Miles O'Brien, live from the Kennedy Space Center, the Space Shuttle Discovery, about 40 minutes to an intended launch. Storm clouds on the horizon, no technical constraints right now to launch. This is the second launch since the loss of Columbia.

Joining me for the next hour of special coverage of the hopeful launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, former shuttle Commander Eileen Collins sitting at my side here, and the editor-in-chief of, Keith Cowing, joining us from Washington. We'll bring you up to date on this tense liftoff and this tense countdown in just a moment. But first let's check some other headlines with Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta..

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Another purported message from Osama bin Laden, posted online this afternoon. The speaker gives instructions to followers in Iraq and Somalia and endorses Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's successor.

In Iraq, a deadly message from the insurgency: a car boom exploded in this Baghdad marketplace, killing 62 people and wounding 114 more.

President Bush says the safe return of this abducted Israeli soldier is key to ending the crisis in Gaza. Palestinian militants holding Cpl. Gilad Shalit are demanding that Israel release a thousand Arab prisoners. The Israeli government says, no deal.

A budget battle cripples the Garden State. New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine has signed an executive order effectively shutting down the state government. At issue, how to close a $4.5 billion budget shortfall.

Many in the Northeast are grabbing a mop and bucket as flood waters slowly recede across the region. At least 18 people died from three days of heavy rain that soaked six states and Washington, D.C.

And now, let's go back to the Kennedy Space Center with Miles O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Fredricka. No one here at the Kennedy Space Center can recall a much more tense countdown than this one. There has been a raging internal debate over the safety of the space shuttle, which is after all in its final years. A date certain for its retirement at the end of 2010. Some 16 missions planned, and now we know every one of them is make or break.

Let's set the block back about three-and-a-half years ago, to the Space Shuttle Columbia, which about 80 seconds after launch in that January of 2003, a piece of foam, about a pound and a half, fell off the orange external fuel tank, striking the left leading edge of that orbiter. Sixteen days later, as the crew came home to Earth, the searing hot heat of reentry, there was a breach in that leading edge of the wing and the orbiter disintegrated and we lost the crew of seven.

NASA spent about a billion dollars on redesigning many aspects of that external fuel tank and the space shuttle, to learn more about it, to photograph it better, to expect it on orbit, to remove some of the foam, which was most susceptible to come off. And yet a year ago, when the Space Shuttle Discovery flew on its return to flight mission, what surprised most everybody involved in the space program at that time was to see a large piece of foam falling off yet another portion of that external fuel tank. This from a place called the pow (ph) ramp -- a 32-pound piece of foam, about a pound of which broke away, which had been considered susceptible but NASA decided not to remove it before the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Since that time, that pow (ph) ramp has been removed and the external fuel tank, or at least a scale model of it, has been tested in a wind tunnel to see if this, the largest, most significant aerodynamic change to that external fuel tank since the beginning of the program, is safe to fly. NASA engineers have determined that, but what it exposed was about three dozen other pieces of foam, which are in fact susceptible to falling off, so-called ice frost ramps.

These are pieces of foam, designed to cover the brackets which connect those pipes and plumbing along the area where the so-called pow (ph) ramp was. Thirty-six of them -- many engineers concerned that they could fall off and cause some damage. There on the left, you see what the pow (ph) ramp looked like in yellow. And as we zoom in there, you get a sense of the nature of these so-called ice frost ramps. They aren't very big, and over the history of the program, no one has seen a piece large enough to cause any damage come off, and yet engineers are very concerned.

The top energy for the program saying he's no go for launch. The top safety officer for the program, no-go for launch. But nevertheless, not appealing their decision, putting it on the desk of the administrator, Mike Griffin, who says he's going to override those concerns, sign on the dotted line, and thus witnessing the countdown you're seeing right now.

Let's listen to Mike Griffin, just a few days ago.


MIKE GRIFFIN, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: I'm willing, as administrator, looking at the whole picture -- I'm willing to take a little bit of programmatic risk now. And you'll notice I did not say crew risk. I'm willing to take some programmatic risk now, in order to prevent an excessive built-up of programmatic risk later on. This is in fact what you pay me to do.


O'BRIEN: Notice the difference, there: programmatic risk, loss of vehicle, not loss of crew. No one here says that a big piece of foam striking Discovery, if that would occur, is an imminent risk to the crew. They will make it to space just fine, and they have many options.

First of all, they will inspect that orbiter to see if they have a problem. And if they do, they have the option of staying upwards of 80 days at the International Space Station, waiting for a rescue mission from another space shuttle orbiter, Atlantis.

Let me tell you about the crew's day. The crew of seven, they're strapped in right now, the hatch is closed, the fuel tank is filled with 500,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and oxygen. We're in the final hold in this countdown, now, about 43 minutes to the intended launch. A specific launch time in order to rendezvous with that International Space Station.

They were up early, a little after 5:00 in the morning, 6:00 in the morning. Made their way toward breakfast and the customary photo opportunities, and had an opportunity to go through their whole ritual of launch, here. The photo opportunity followed by the crew suit up, where they donned those bright orange pumpkin suits, those pressure suits which they wear into orbit and on reentry.

Later they walked out in that once again familiar ritual, applauded here by workers here at Kennedy Space Center, who have longed for this opportunity to launch another shuttle, having waited a year after the return to flight, three-and-a-half years since Columbia and the disaster that that represented. The vice president, Dick Cheney, is here, viewing in the VIP area, among the dignitaries here to watch this hopeful launch of the space shuttle.

But as we say, we are watching very closely the storms clouds, convective activity as they say -- so-called anvil clouds which are sheared off thunder clouds. All within a 20 and 30 mile disk from where we sit right now, because they have to not only be concerned about the launch, but the possibility that, in the event of an abort, the Space Shuttle Discovery would have to come here on a landing.

Bonnie Schneider has been watching the NASA weather picture at the cape for us all this afternoon, and she has the latest for us.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Miles, you're talking about the anvil clouds, the top shelf of the thunderstorm. They're very high up in the atmosphere, but what happens is, they can stretch out over a thunderstorm and they actually point in the direction of where the thunderstorm is headed.

So when we look at this picture -- this is visible satellite imagery. You can see the clouds stretching from Orlando to the Kennedy Space Center. But when you look at radar, you actually see that the winds are coming in out of the east. It's a little confusing, but that's because we're getting the surface wind out of the east that's bringing on some of that cool air from the ocean. What it is doing is creating those sea breeze thunderstorms that are well out towards Orlando.

But some of those high cloud tops are working their way close enough, that if they're within 20 nautical miles of the landing strip, perhaps, or within 10 nautical miles of the shuttle launch pad, that they could scrub the mission due to weather. That's what we're watching at this time, how close they come. You can see the distance between the two, the shuttle launch pad needs to be within 10 nautical miles of clear weather, and no thunderstorms certainly inside, or none of those anvil clouds that we were speaking of earlier.

Now if we take a look at the radar picture, now what we're looking at as again winds out of the northeast, but here are those thunderstorms, well towards Orlando. That's where we're getting some of the heavier downpours.

But again, the winds from the upper levels are kind of stretching out the cloud tops and bringing some of that moisture and some of that energy towards the Kennedy Space Center. It is very evident here in our visible satellite perspective.

But what is interesting to note, is if the wind direction changes, and it turns a little bit more coming in from the northwest, we can get some of this pushing to the south and we could get clear skies for the Kennedy Space Center and for the shuttle launch, something we'll be watching minute by minute here as well. Back to you.

O'BRIEN: Seems very touch and go on the weather. Bonnie Schneider, thank you very much. We're going to take a break. When we return, we're going to meet the crew. Among the crew members, the second African-American to fly into space, the pilot for John Glenn, and the only astronaut who has a twin brother in the astronaut office. Stay with us.


MIKE FOSSUM, DISCOVERY ASTRONAUT: The kid in me, the 12-year-old that dreamed of doing this job, is still in there, but I'm also realistic about it, that I know we have an important job ahead of us. And I'm more determined to be successful in completing our part and making sure we get everything done that we're going off to do.




STEPHANIE WILSON, DISCOVERY ASTRONAUT: I do see us as being part of a wave, the second wave of African-American women to fly. It is the second wave, not the fifth wave, not the tenth wave, so it is a low number, which in my mind says we still have some work to do to encourage young African-American women to pursue careers in science, math or engineering.


O'BRIEN: Stephanie Wilson, walking where Mae Jemison did, several years ago. The second African-American woman to fly into space, Harvard-educated and an engineer. Just one of seven members who are now strapped aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, strapped in and going through checklists, doing what astronauts do right now, which is to make sure they don't be responsible for a mistake.

Joining us right now is the commander of the previous Discovery mission, retired commander -- first female to command a space shuttle is Eileen Collins. Before we get into who is who on this flight, Stephanie Wilson, this is a big accomplishment for a woman and African-American woman, and you, having been first in so many things, must really connect with that.

EILEEN COLLINS, FORMER SHUTTLE COMMANDER: I think it is a big deal, and I agree very much with what Stephanie said about being the second. We need more. For example, I was the first woman commander, Pam Milray (ph) has been just assigned the second woman shuttle commander. The problem is, there's nobody after her. We haven't hired any other women pilots.

So Stephanie and do things like go out and talk to young women and men, too, about the field of engineering, the space program, "You can be an astronaut someday if you want." It's a very exciting career field with much left to be discovered and invented. We're trying to inspire these young people to look at the space program.

O'BRIEN: Is it just that not that many women select this as a career?

COLLINS: I think there's a turning point. Young women do well in math and science in elementary and junior high, but once they get into high school, they start turning in other directions or losing interest altogether. And we really would like them to look -- they can be engineers, and young women are smart enough to do this. If you like engineering, if you like math, please take a look at engineering as a career field and you could lead you into space someday.

O'BRIEN: That's a big issue, and it's more than this hour can afford to handle because it is such a big one.

Let's go to the crew, now. Steve Lindsey is the commander. Steve, you may recall if you really follow the space program closely, got a lot of attention as the pilot on the mission when John Glenn returned to space, back in October of 1988. He's a fellow, U.S. Air Force colonel and graduate of the Air Force Academy. This is his fourth flight and second command, has been to the space station before. How do you describe Steve to somebody that doesn't know him?

COLLINS: Steve and I worked very closely together. We went to test pilot school together. He was the top graduate in his class, very quiet yet intelligent person, very thought-provoking person. He helped with the accident investigation after Columbia, helped to us devise a plan, the logic that we would go through in clearing the orbiter to come back and fly again -- very dedicated to spaceflight.

Steve and I work closely together because our missions are so very similar. Great guy, really enjoyed working with him.

O'BRIEN: And helped out the husband family, the family of Rick Husband, the commander of Columbia, in ways that I don't have time to go into, remarkable, compassionate person.

Mark Kelly, who is the pilot, he has a brother, Scott, who happens to be his twin and happens to also be an astronaut. How's that for a series of events? Competitive brothers, going all the way to the top of their field. He is a commander in the United States Navy, a veteran of one spaceflight. He is the first Kelly twin to fly a second flight. Age 41, born in Orange, New Jersey, from West Orange, actually, and likes cycling, weight-lifting and golf. And we recognize him because he has the moustache. Mark has the moustache, Scott does not. That's helpful to all the folks in the astronaut corps.

What is it like having twins in the astronaut corps? What are the odds of that?

COLLINS: It was difficult at first when we brought them into the office in 1996, no one could tell them apart, so we would always look at their badges, until finally they decided to do the moustache thing and we could tell them apart.

Scott worked for me for a while as the -- in Rendezvous. Mark has worked quite a bit in the robotics area. This is Mark's second flight. We hope he moves on to be a commander on his next one.

O'BRIEN: Piers Sellers is born in great Britain, he has a doctorate, he is a well-educated guy. Been on one spaceflight before and will be the lead space walker on really some very interesting space walks, including one that will put him at the end of a much- extended robotic arm for the shuttle, to see if it can be used to repair a space shuttle in flight.

Maybe a third space walk to try to test out some repair techniques in orbit. What is Piers like as a person?

COLLINS: Piers is a very low-key, easy-going -- got a great sense of humor. But also very intense when it comes to getting the job done. He's a great engineer. You'll notice Piers, during a space walk, he'll be wearing the red stripes on his legs. He's our lead space walker, as you said, he works very closely with my crew as we did some of these development techniques and inspection techniques that they'll be doing on the space walk.

O'BRIEN: Mike Fossum will be his space walking cohort. He's a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, and a Texas A&M proud Aggie; what is he like?

COLLINS: Mike, again, very intelligent, very easy-going guy. I have to say, one of the criteria to be selected as astronaut is your ability to get along with other people and the ability to communicate well. Mike is very easy to communicate with, easy-going guy. This is his first flight. I know he's really excited to finally get up in space.

He was in the Class of '98, and he'll be one of the first astronauts to fly.

O'BRIEN: Lisa Nowak, who is a Navy commander, mission specialist. She is a rookie, she's 42, born in Washington. She likes crossword puzzles. I don't think she's doing anything right now. Though this might be a good time to do a crossword, except she is the flight engineer and has her hands full.

COLLINS: Lisa flew in the Navy, and one of the things I think people don't know about her is she's a mother, she's got three children. Her youngest are twins, twin girls and we have talked very much about flying in space when you have children and some of the hardships that go along with saying good-bye to your kids. I know that the men go through the same thing, it is not just the moms. But the dads go through the same thing.

O'BRIEN: Particularly hard for a mom, and you've done that.

Stephanie Wilson we talked a lot about already. Her first space flight -- second African-American.

Then Thomas Reiter, you don't see him as much. He's a veteran of one long spaceflight on the Russian space station, Mir.

There you see the basics on Stephanie Wilson. As we say, a little piece of history, here. It shouldn't take so long for this to happen.

And then finally, Thomas Reiter, who will spend six months on the International Space Station, bringing it up to a crew of three for the first time since the loss of Columbia.

When we come back, we're going to get into this whole issue of the safety of the space shuttle -- 25 years plus now it has been flying. There are many calls from many quarters -- many questions about how safe it is to fly out this mission -- 16 more flights planned. We'll get into that after a break. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to our coverage of the intended launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery. We're now about 27 minutes away from an intended launch, but currently the weather is not permitting a launch. We're watching that weather very closely. As a matter of fact, we've been watching an aircraft they call the shuttle training aircraft, which is a Gulfstream business jet outfitted to fly just like a shuttle, which has been flying around, shooting approaches as a shuttle might if it had to come back here quickly, to get a sense of what the weather is like.

Let's check in with Bonnie Schneider in the Weather Center and see what she is seeing. SCHNEIDER: That's right, They're also checking to see where the thunderstorms are, and where those anvil cloud tops are, which is so important because, even though on the radar picture you might see the thunderstorms well towards Orlando, those cloud tops kind of stretch and extend. They can actually do that for hundreds of miles. In this case, we're looking at a 30-mile distance.

Right now they are saying, according to the 45th Weather Squadron, that right now it is no-go due to weather. But that has been changing over the past couple of hours. We've seen it going back and forth, to go to no-go. So it's very possible it may change again.

Once we get nine minutes, right before the shuttle launch, the weather makes the call. Of course, that could change minute-by-minute as we get closer to the actual time of the launch. But at nine minutes to, that's when the weather department there will make a call as far as what the weather is.

At present, we are seeing those cloud tops stretching over, close enough to where the shuttle launch site is. Here is the thunderstorms right now, south of Orlando. But on the visible imagery, you can see the cloud tops stretching all the way across towards the space center. That's because the winds in the upper levels of the atmosphere are coming in out of the west. So they're blowing the tops of the thunderstorms in this direction, it toward the space center. Not a good thing, and that's why we're seeing weather unfortunately right now causing some problems with getting the launch to get going on time.

Now what we're looking at, at the winds right now, at the surface, they're coming in out of the east. This is more of a sea breeze effect that's creating the thunderstorms. But we can't have any thunderstorms or anvil cloud tops, meaning electrically-charged cloud tops anywhere within this vicinity. For the landing strip, it can't be within 20 nautical miles. And for the shuttle launch pad itself, it can't be within 10 nautical miles.

Right now, we do have those anvil, or electrically-charged, cloud tops within in this vicinity, so that's why it's red right now. But Miles, as you know, this could change minute-by-minute.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it can, Bonnie Schneider. Thank you very much. There have been cases where they have actually taken it inside down to the five-minute level in that countdown, even with bad weather, and held to that point on the prospect that they might get a little patch of blue. So there is a little bit of flexibility. I think it could go either way here. We're going to watch it very closely, obviously.

We're also watching very closely, the orbiter itself and the shuttle, and the changes that have been made in the three-and-a-half years since we lost Columbia and her crew of seven. I want to walk you through, very briefly, some of the key the changes that have been made to the space shuttle, taking a look at some animation we've put together here.

If you'll recall, as we go down to the launch pad and give you a sense and kind of fly you right inside the shuttle if you could, take a look. This is the inside of the leading edge of the wing. There are sensors now in there designed to detect if any sort of impact occurs. You'll recall, that was the problem which led to the loss of Columbia.

Over here, foam removed from these bipod ramps, the source of the foam in the case of Columbia. In this case the pow (ph) ramps have been removed -- 32 pounds of foam no longer there. It flew off in the case of Eileen Collins mission one year ago. Cameras all located all throughout the shuttle external tank, the shuttle itself and the solid rocket boosters. An extended boom at the length of this robotic arm, to allow them to do better searches on the back side of the shuttle for any sort of damage. Exploding bolts have a catcher in them so they don't cause a debris risk, something that was a concern of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

The crew itself has additional training to do repairs, if necessary, and if need be, can use the airlock to the International Space Station and spend upwards of 80 days there in a so-called safe haven. Those are the key issues that have been addressed.

What remains outstanding, though, are some pieces of foam on the external fuel tank that remain, and some engineers are concerned pose a threat to the shuttle.

To take you back to Columbia, first of all, and take a look at that piece of foam as it came off. It was about a pound-and-a-half in weight, about the size of a briefcase -- 80 seconds or so after launch blasted right into that left wing. We found out later it caused a huge hole. At the time, the engineers had no idea that the foam could be such a risk, and allowed that orbiter to come back home, not knowing what kind of jeopardy that crew was in.

They spent an awful lot of time -- two-and-a-half years and a billion dollars -- trying to fix this problem. And then, last year, when Eileen Collins commanded Discovery on their way on that return to flight mission to the International Space Station, not long after launch what we saw was very surprising indeed to most everybody in and out of the program. There you see it -- piece of foam coming off that so-called pow (ph) ramp, which has now been removed. It fell harmlessly, fortunately, but nevertheless, many engineers realized at that point they had to go back to the drawing board.

They've done a lot more testing since then. Back-to-the-drawing- board type stuff, and have used high-speed photography, they have thrown ice at tiles, and at reinforced carbon, the hard brittle material that is at the leading edge of the wing. They have done everything they can to get a sense of really what kind of damage is caused. There you see the hole that was made at the Southwest Research Center in San Antonio, when they tested to see what happened when the foam of the size of Columbia struck the leading edge of the wing. That was a moment where many NASA engineers were just taken aback at the damage this very light material could cause.

In the meantime, what is left behind on the space shuttle are these so-called ice frost ramps. The reduction, the removal of the pow (ph) ramp has left these ice frost ramps which are about three dozen on the tank, and those particular pieces are of concern, as you look at them dealing with the tank and testing pieces of it, that some of those ice frost ramps could break free. The question is, how big would those pieces be? Could they cause some damage?

And that's what led to the senior engineer for the program and the chief safety officer saying, as long as those ice frost ramps are on there, we're no go for launch. The administrator of NASA begged to differ. Listen.


GRIFFIN: Every single spaceflight that this country or any country has ever done, has to weigh performance risk against safety risk, against cost risk, and that is what we're doing here. Schedule matters -- it can't dominate, it can't rule the roost, but schedule matters.


O'BRIEN: So Mike Griffin overruled that top engineer, that top safety officer, and said they would accept the risk to the space shuttle, to the vehicle, understanding that it is not a risk to the crew. The crew has the option of safe haven at the space station and a rescue mission. Still, a very tense launch countdown here at the Kennedy Space Center today.

When we return, we're going to tell you a little bit more about the countdown itself and what is going on right now. We'll take you to that dramatic moment when people weigh in, they put their credibility on the line and say, go or no-go for launch. It's the final poll, before the final countdown that they call terminal count. Stay with us.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Welcome back T-minus nine minutes and holding. We're about seventeen minutes or so away from the intended launch of the space shuttle "Discovery." Just heard that they're not holding out a lot of hope for the weather. But they're going to continue this countdown, perhaps, all the way down to the five minute marks, hold and see if they get any sort of break in the weather. We'll have more on the countdown and what's going on right at the launch pad in a moment, but first let's go back to Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta -- Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Miles, a look now at our top stories, CNN is looking to confirm the latest purported message from terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. In an audiotape posted online the speaker threatens retaliation against Iraqi Shiites for attacks the Sunni minority. He also warns the world against sending troops into Somalia.

More blood on the streets of Baghdad, a car bomb killed 62 people this morning at a busy marketplace. A police patrol is thought to have been the target.

President Bush says the release of this kidnapped Israeli soldier is key to ending the crisis in Gaza. Corporal Gilad Shalit was abducted six days ago by Palestinian militants. He has not been seen since.

On this holiday weekend, some unwanted vacation time in the garden state. Today New York governor, John Corzine shut down the state government over a budget impasse.

And it's a good day for Dick Cheney. The 65 year old vice president got a clean bill of health at his annual check up. Right now he's at the Florida coast for today's shuttle launch. Later he'll go to the Pepsi 400 NASCAR race at Daytona International Speedway. Miles, back to you at the Kennedy Space Center.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Fredricka, we're joined here by some special guests. Right beside me is Aileen Collins a former shuttle commander, the first woman to ever to do that. She flu last year here on "Discovery" on "Return to Flight" mission, which itself was a nail-biter, this one is just as much a nail-biter. Kind of "Return to Flight part 2." Keith Cowing who is the editor-in-chief, watching all of this unfold from Washington.

First of all, Eileen, let's just talk -- get people up to date here on the thinking about the weather right now. As we look around here, I see a lot of patches of blue, but unfortunately, really kind of off to the north and west of here, it appears there's some thunderstorm activity and low ceilings, right now, it is no go. What will they do, will they stop now or will they try to see if there's a possibility this will improve.

EILEEN COLLINS, ASTRONAUT: Well, to launch you have to have both an observed go condition and a forecast go condition. And the forecast is in there because you might have an emergency return. So the ceiling needs to be greater than 5,000 feet, I don't know what it is now, but it appears to lower than that. There might be a little bit of a visibility issue out at the shuttle landing facility for an emergency landing. The launch track looks fairly good, but we need to be go for both launch and emergency return.

O'BRIEN: All right, and we'd like to welcome our viewers all around the world to CNN. And let's listen for just a moment as they conduct their final poll.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No-go for weather.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Copy that, and launch director and launch team is ready to proceed with the exception of Houston flight and (INAUDIBLE) both for weather at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Copy all that, I'm going to do my pull at this time. Chief engineer, launch director verify (INAUDIBLE) to launch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Engineer chief and go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, KC condition assurance.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. (INAUDIBLE) launch manager, Mike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boeing space station team is go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Copy that. Thank you. Range weather. Range weather launch director 212.

O'BRIEN: That's Mike Leinbach who is the launch director.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) is currently right on the anvil rope.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) Commander launch manager.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Launch director (INAUDIBLE) the (INAUDIBLE) is not working any issues, we are following the weather call. We prefer to hold at nine in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, We'll contain hold at nine and use the window, if luck is on our side, we'll go, if not try again tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) launch director 212.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Manager concurs.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, the strategy here will be to use up the whole window, while we're holding here at nine minutes and if we get a go from flight and range weather and SRI, we will press on.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) we're no-go for additional (INAUDIBLE).

O'BRIEN: We're listening to NASA's launch director, Mike Leinbach, right in the far right of that screen there, as he's been going through his various holding stations, all those technical expertises and in both cases, people who are associated with weather, saying no-go. Now, what they're going to do is, in about two minutes or so, they're supposed to come out of the hold. The clock should begin ticking or should have if everybody was to go and begin what's called terminal count, the final nine minutes. They'll keep it held at that nine-minute mark until it's too late to begin the countdown in order to meet that very narrow window. Once gone to explain to you, in order to catch up with the International Space Station, they have to launch almost precisely as it passes over ahead, like that quarterback tossing a football to the receiver.

So, at the back end of this window, Aileen Collins, we've been saying all along, that they've, you know, they've got this specific time that they have to fly. There is time some time, it costs them a little more fuel to get there, but they can get to the space station for another five minutes after that, right?

COLLINS: That's right, the launch window is about 10 minutes along, we usually try to launch right in the middle of that window so we have five minutes slack. Another option is the launch team could decide, at this time, to countdown to T-minus five minutes, just before the APU start. You don't want to start the APUs unless you've got a -- that's the auxiliary power unites -- unless you have a pretty good shot at launching. So, we'll see what they do.

O'BRIEN: Because you're using a consumable and you want to make sure that's the case. So, in essence, once we here, in a minute from now, is when that launch countdown, the nine-minute hold should have ended. And it should -- the clock should tick. So, another five minutes after that, we should get the word that it would be too late to launch, unless there's some miraculous break in the weather. So, we'll sit here and wait, and the crew waits, and you've been through this, you've been strapped in waiting for this. At this point what are you thinking?

COLLINS: Well, it will be a letdown to the crew if we scrub today, I think it'll be letdown for everybody, but we can't control the weather, so at that point in time, the crew will, if we decide not to launch today, the crew will go into a recycle -- they'll back out of some of their switch throws and they'll get ready to get out of the orbiter as soon as the closeout crew can get back out there.

O'BRIEN: Right. And one of the things that we'll -- I'm sure will be one of the discussions as to when to try again, They'll take -- spend a lot of time looking at the weather, of course, but one the issues that they're going to have to consider is whether to fix that bulky thruster we've been talking about all day. In other words, if it is a bad day anyway, looking like one tomorrow, and they can get to that thruster and try to fix that thermostat or heater, they could do that, and that could mean a delay of more than a day, potentially. I'm speculating a little bit, but I know it is not an easy fix.

COLLINS: That's true and I'm not sure how much of that they fix on the launch pad, but they'll definitely take a look at that and take a look at, you know, what are your options downstream. If we do try to launch tomorrow and we don't go, then we'll have to stand down Monday so we can resupply the cryogenics that are for the electrical system on the shuttle, and we wouldn't try again until Tuesday.

O'BRIEN: All right, that's a lot to consider right now. This is exactly what they pay the people who run the shuttle program for. We're going to come back, we'll be watching the weather, watching the skies very closely here. Otherwise no technical constraints getting in the way of the launch of the space shuttle "Discovery". Mother Nature having a say, back with more in a moment.


O'BRIEN: I'm hearing it. This just in to CNN, while you were in the commercial break, the launch was scrubbed. It will not fly today. The space shuttle "Discovery" will remain on the pad, the crew will begin the process of undoing what they did to get to where they are and return to the operations and checkout room, crew quarters, the clock will be recycled, a new countdown will begin. The only question right now is when will they try again.

Eileen Collins, you heard the NASA launch director, Mike Leinbach in concurrence with some of his counterparts in Houston. Essentially what they were saying was, the weather good enough for launch but not good enough for an emergency landing is what it boils down to.

COLLINS: We've got to be able to cover for the emergency return case, it looks like there's still thunderstorm anvils within 20 miles and that would potential trigger lightening or could cause a problem for the shuttle if we had to do an emergency return.

O'BRIEN: So not, as they put it, a dynamic situation, not going to take chances, clearly they're not -- weather is not the kind of thing you fool around with in these things.

COLLINS: Well, that's true. It's disappointing, but like I said before, we just can't change the weather and now what's going to happen is the management team will meet, we'll take a look at all the, you know, not only the weather for tomorrow but they'll take a look at the heater problem on the RCS jet, we'll take a look at the cryogenics reload that they may have to do and they'll make a decision on whether or not we'll try tomorrow or maybe go to Monday.

O'BRIEN: A lot of factors to consider. If they do, in fact, decide to go for tomorrow, the launch time to meet up with the space station would be 3:26 p.m. as we say it slides back about 20 minutes every day.

Let's go to Bonnie Schneider who's been watching with is from the Weather Center.

Bonnie that's -- those are some pretty strict rules they have here about weather. It actually looks, I bet if we waited probably 10 or 15 minutes longer I bet they'd be OK, because it looks like it's kind of clearing out. What are you seeing?

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well right now what we're seeing on the radar picture are still some thunderstorms in the Orlando vicinity, but the reason their mission was scrubbed was because there were anvil cloud tops, those are eclectically charged and very, very dangerous because even though they can be miles away from the thunderstorm itself, they are connected to the thunderstorm. So, the shuttle doesn't want to be near any of those clouds because of the eclectically charged nature of them. So, what they were reporting were some of those anvil clouds within 20 nautical miles of the landing strip, not with in 10 nautical miles of the shuttle launch pad, that's the parameters for launch, but the landing strip, also that needs to be clear as well.

And when we look at the big picture now, on the radar, you'll find that most thunderstorms have managed to stay well to the west of where you are. And that's why you're seeing kind of breaks on the clouds on the picture there on the screen. But here's al little bit of rain now, south of Orlando, some rain coming into the vicinity, but the thunderstorm intensity has died down a bit over the past hour. So Miles, you may be right that if time were to go on a little bit further, the situation would change. But there is something to note, it's not only the thunderstorms itself, but it's also the wind direction.

What happened was we had winds on the upper levels of the atmosphere, first coming in from the northwest, that would have been good because, that was kind of steering this a little bit father to the south of the Kennedy Space Center, but what happened was, within the past 30 minutes or so, some of those upper level winds shifted and they started coming in directly from the west. So, what that did was break off those tops of the thunderstorms, the anvil clouds and kind of steer them straight in this line, close enough to that landing strip and close enough to scrub the mission, unfortunately, within 20 nautical miles where the landing strip is located. And you can see that here on the screen.

Here's the landing strip and here's the shuttle launch pad. SO unfortunately, right not, those anvil cloud tops really menacing and unfortunately making for a scrubbed mission for today, but hopefully tomorrow we can have a lot better weather and a better situation for launch -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Bonnie, all right. Bonnie Schneider, let's hope for the best. If they give it a try for tomorrow, we will certainly be here. We'll be here any day they try it. Let's take a listen because it happened while we were at commercial break. Let's listen to the exchange between the NASA launch director, Jeff -- excuse me, Mike Leinbach and some of his counterparts in Houston as they made the decision.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's scrub this attempt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK sir, I copy that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And attention all personnel, we are going to go ahead and scrub for today. And, let's see, OTC, PBC, PTC, any other folks had any other work we need to do prior to us breaking out here?





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is shuttle launch control, T-minus nine minutes and holding and as we heard from our launch director, Mike Leinbach, we have scrubbed our launch attempt for today. The primary concern was for anvil clouds within 20 miles of the shuttle landing facility. We will plan for a 24-hour turn around, which would open our launch window tomorrow, our preferred launch time tomorrow at 3:26 p.m. Again, the preferred launch time for Sunday July the 2nd, 3:26 p.m. Eastern Time from Kennedy Space Center.


O'BRIEN: The words of Bruce Buckingham who is public affairs officer inside that firing room there, just a little ways from where we sit as they made the announcement. The narrow window -- that narrow opportunity to meet up with the space station happened to be a bad weather moment here on the Florida peninsula. So, they won't fly today, we'll be hearing very shortly when they want to try again. Not only do they have weather considerations to factor in, but as we told you, they had one thruster on this space shuttle that is not operative. They may decide that it is a good opportunity to fix that before they try again. So, we'll keep you posted. We're going to be back with more, and we'll delve into a little bit on the whole future of the space shuttle program in just a moment. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, "Discovery" will not fly today, maybe not tomorrow either. We'll find out very shortly on that, what the crew is doing right now is, quite frankly, it's a bit of a letdown. They're getting to go into the process of throwing all the switches back and getting unstrapped, the hatch will come open and out they will come before too long making their way to the crew quarters for if at least another night. NASA managers have a lot to consider besides the weather. They have a technical issue which they decided to fly with, but they would prefer to fly with it fixed and that is one rocket thruster that has a bad thermostat, bad heater, and would not be usable, potentially for the commander for very precise movement as they dock at the International Space Station and other precise maneuvers. So, there'll be a meeting that's probably underway even as we speak or will be shortly and we'll hear very soon as to when "Discovery"'s next launch will be.

In the meantime, that's near term time future that we're talking about. Let's talk a little more long-term in bring in Keith Cowing who's been patiently waiting for us to include him in this discussion. It's been a busy 40 minutes or so, Keith, we apologize.

NASA, proving once again, it doesn't take chances with weather. A lot of people would say, well, if they were willing to take a chance on the foam flying off, why wouldn't they take a chance here, I suppose? What -- try to get people a sense of perspective. You were talking a little bit earlier about how sometimes the explanation of how NASA handles the risk and calculates the risk, that message doesn't get through loud and clear to the public.

KEITH COWING, NASAWATCH.COM: Well, NASA's not known oftentimes for being clear and saying what they mean and meaning what they say. And the issue isn't so much the decision that was made, as you mentioned before, Columbia was not impacted in its ability to safely take the crew into orbit, the issue was damage that was done during assent to bring them back. During the flight readiness review, Brian O'Connor the head of the safety office and Kris Scolista (ph), chief engineer, said they were no go for launch but it was OK to go ahead with the mission. Now that sounds kind of contradictory.

But, as you parse this, and as NASA sort of tried to spin and explain this all after the fact, what was really going on here is that they were voting no go to launch the vehicle because of the vehicle, but since the crew had a place to go to, the International Space Station, where they could stay for 82 or so days, there wasn't going to be a risk to the crew. But again, NASA sort of stumbled in explaining this and then when reporters tried to get documents that went with this review, the flight readiness review, NASA refused to post them, even though they had put the very same documents out for the public to see before Eileen Conner's mission.

Of course, you know, I got a hold of one of those documents that had to do with the external tank and I posted it on NASA Watch and if you look at it and get through all the archaic NASAese, there's really nothing controversial in there, yet, you got to ask why NASA is so reluctant to put this information out and why they just can't figure out how to say things very plainly and explain what it is that happened actually, that's a problem.

O'BRIEN: Well, I -- yeah, I guess you could say it's a very technical thing and these are engineers who maybe -- that isn't their specialty in communicating to the general public. But it's an important thing to do, because the general public ultimately is your constituency.

COWING: Absolutely, you just explained it and I just explained it, perhaps they need hire some media types and teach them a little engineering, somewhere in the mix you might a better explanation for things. Oftentimes it's NASA's technical abilities, it's ability to relate, not only decisions it's made but also what it's doing and why that's important to a broader audience. So this is a bigger and more long-term problem that NASA's had -- communicating clearly with the public.

O'BRIEN: You know, I'm reminded as we watch this countdown which was postponed, or scrubbed in the NASA vernacular, today, about how labor intensive that this particular machine is and how the next idea, the next plan, the crew exploration vehicle which hearkens back to the Apollo capsules and the Gemini (ph) capsules, in many respects, it's going to be a lot simpler to fly and that it probably would have launched today because you don't have the requirement of a pilot of having to glide back to a runway landing.

There you see some animation of this crew exploration vehicle the just dubbed "Aries." What are your thoughts on that? Going back to the future of this case is that a wise thing?

COWING: I think it is. And I think, you know, you learn along the way and you'll see, of course, that these vehicles are meant to be derived in some aspects from what the shuttle's doing, but it's taking some of the more vulnerable things out. Plus, (INAUDIBLE) the way this shuttle orbiter is placed on the stack, as they call it, and how it could be damaged by virtue of stuff coming off. In the future the crew will be on top of things, such that either things falling off can't damage the spacecraft or if there's a problem, they can pull away just like could do during the "Apollo" era, but hopefully that system's going to be a lot simpler to run. And of course, you know, the shuttle that we see today is a vintage '70s and '80s era design. Of course, that also means that there'll be a lot fewer people working there, and that's going to be a big political issue for NASA, when it finally owes up to the fact that thousands of people are going to eventually be laid off. It may be the politics that's more difficult to do than the engineering.

O'BRIEN: Sometimes -- matter of fact, most times that is true. Keith Cowing thank you, very much. The editor-in-chief of

Eileen Collins, let's button it up with you. What's it like at this point? The crew's got to be let down. They've got to be exhausted, they've got to -- they went through an emotional high a little while ago. Is coming back from this difficult?

COLLINS: Well, you know, I've been through a weather scrub before, and it is difficult. I think physically it is draining to get up in the morning suit up, get out to the launch pad, strap in, lay on your back for as long as we do, it is uncomfortable to be on your back, and of course you're psyched up and you're ready to go. And the weather's a disappointment, but frankly, you can't do anything about it, so you accept the fact that you scrubbed. I can't think of a time when NASA has bent the rules on the weather. You just don't mess with the weather because, you know, we've got some pad in there to be a little bit extra safe because the weather is unpredictable, you don't know which way it's going to go. We made the right decision today, I'm sure the crew agrees with that, and their job right now is to stay well rested, because they may be called back tomorrow to make another launch attempt.

O'BRIEN: We'll leave it at that. Eileen Collins, former shuttle commander. Keith Cowing of, and thanks to all our viewers around the world for joining us on this hour special, "Discovery's" attempted launch, today scrubbed on account of weather. We'll keep you posted as to when they will try again. Stay with CNN for complete coverage of then NASA space shuttle flight, the second after the space shuttle "Columbia" whenever that happens.

I'm Miles O'Brien live from the Kennedy Space Center.


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