The weight of the wait

CAPE CANAVERAL–If all goes well, we’ll launch on Monday. If all does not, we might not. I don’t know more than that. And trying to research the issue further won’t provide any more information, since NASA only opened the shuttle’s engine compartment earlier this afternoon.

So instead of letting the weight of the wait build, I’m going to do something I can’t do at home: Close the laptop, leave the phone charging, and walk one block to the beach with a book, a towel and a countdown to a nap.

But even there, the scenery on the horizon may bring to mind the possibility that has usĀ  waiting in joyful hope. [Edit: Or writhing in agony.]

NASA Tweetup, day two: The scrub

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER–Today’s KSC experience here started with a jolt of adrenaline as I saw the countdown clock ticking, then ended with a sigh and a shrug as the launch was scrubbed.

The Astrovan heads back.

It happens. In this case, the fault was with malfunctioning heaters for one of Endeavour’s three Auxiliary Power Units–small turbines at the tail of the orbiter that power its hydraulics. NASA thinks it’s a wiring fault, but that’s a crowded part of the shuttle. (If you’ve ever had to pay $1,000 or so to have a compact car’s timingĀ  belt changed, you may be familiar with the basic issue here.) So we’re looking at a minimum of a 72-hour delay, to Monday at 2:33 p.m.

We found out about this in a surprisingly direct manner. We had all gathered by the road leading to Pad 39A (speed limit 35 MPH) to cheer on the “Astrovan” taking Endeavour’s crew there when the van, trailed by a small motorcade, pulled over to the short street leading to the Launch Control Center, stopped for a few minutes as we wondered about the reasons for the detour, and then reversed course.

Moments later, somebody was reading word of the scrub–initially forecast at 48 hours–from a message on their BlackBerry. NASA social-media manager Stephanie Schierholz (who has been absurdly productive and cheerful all week) confirmed the delay, which was then pushed back further. It may change again after NASA’s 4 p.m. press conference on the scrub.

Flags fluttering in a strong breeze early Friday morning

I’d worried about that. Not to be rude, but the shuttle has a lousy record for on-time departures. And on this day in particular, the weather looked questionable too. Although the skies have cleared up, the wind remains strong here, and the forecast had been questionable at the shuttle’s three transatlantic-abort landing sites.

Fortunately, my flight home wasn’t scheduled until Monday afternoon, and I can always reschedule that yet again. (Have I mentioned that my schedule is pretty flexible these days?) Many of the other Tweetup attendees are staying too–although I feel terrible for the ones who can’t. So we’ll work our problem while NASA works theirs.

What else are you going to do? Get mad? If launching six people into orbit on a reusable spacecraft were easy, another country would have done it by now. And if watching a shuttle launch were easy, I would have crossed that off the bucket list already. You have to be able to deal with the possibility of a delay. As somebody once observed of a somewhat-related set of circumstances: “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”