CAPE CANAVERAL (CBS4) – It’s the last shuttle flight. And it’s only hours away from blasting off from Kennedy Space Center, where CBS4’s Stephen Stock has covered dozens of shuttle launches.
Friday morning, at around 4:30am, the crew of four astronauts will wake up, eat breakfast, put on their flight suits and get ready to make history.
“The team is ready. They’re prepared. Everything is in the right spot. This is a normal countdown for us. It’s time to go,” said Mike Moses, Chairman of the Shuttle Mission Management Team.
For thirty years, the glow of a space shuttle on the launch pad waiting for it’s launch into space, lit up in the early morning hours, has become an image almost taken for granted by most Americans.
That all ends with this mission.
As many as three quarters of a million people are expected to gather along Brevard County’s roads and beaches to watch this part of American space history.
That much attention is something the shuttle’s launch director wishes the public might have given years ago.
“I wish we had been able to maintain the interest of the American people a bit better than we have had over the life of the program. Not that we haven’t done that. It’s just I don’t think we’ve done it as good as we could have,” said Mike Leinbach.
134 previous times a space shuttle has stood, poised for flight on the launch pad.
“This time, like many others, Atlantis could be held back by weather, if lightning and thunderstorms develop, as forecast, around launch pad 39-A,” said Kathy Winters the Shuttle’s Weather Officer.
With one of the smallest crews in many years, only four astronauts on board, Atlantis’ cargo bay has been cleared to make room for 8200 pounds worth of cargo, dozens of things, nearly a year’s worth of supplies for the International Space Station, the most cargo by volume ever carried in the shuttle’s payload bay.
Even as the launch team works to make this mission go off without a hitch, they realize that every passing minute of the countdown clock also counts down the end of the space shuttle program.
Leinbach confessed, “It’s getting more and more somber the closer we’re getting to the end of this program. There are people, millions of people in this country that have grown up with the shuttle program and have never been alive without the shuttle flying. Anyone under the age of thirty has had the shuttle program as part of Americana. And that we won’t have any more.”