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Friday, December 8, 2006

The scene at Cape Canaveral

NEEDHAM

Needham elementary school teacher Angela DiNapoli says NASA tried until the very last moment to launch the space shuttle last night.

DiNapoli is down in Cape Canaveral, Fla. to witness the launch because one of her former students, Sunita Williams, is one of the seven astronauts on the flight. The launch was postponed to tomorrow because of the weather.

DiNapoli described the countdown in this email to Globe West:

It was really looking promising. When we boarded the buses at 6:45 p.m. for the launch, we started to see stars in the sky and everyone was cheering and hopeful. The clouds had cleared in the area of the launch site for a while.

They stop the clock twice: once at T-minus 20 minutes to check all the systems. At that time, all systems seemed fine. Then they stop the clock at T minus 9 minutes and holding for about 40 minutes. That's when they had a check of all the systems, and every one was fine, except the cloud ceiling.

It was only at 5,500 feet but it has to be at 8,000 feet. We could hear mission control and and the astronauts talking over the loudspeakers. Everything seemed fine except the clouds. The astronauts did have a problem with the joystick that works one of the many cameras that takes pictures of the external tank during liftoff. However, they said that there was enough overlap that there wasn't a problem.

NASA said that cloud ceiling can change quickly so they decided to drop the clock to 5 minutes, but the window for launch was only another 10 minutes. During the next 5 minutes, NASA had a weather plane flying above the site to check the current cloud coverage.

Then they started a 5-minute countdown ... to see if they could launch. I was sitting in the VIP section with the family which was away from the guest section. ...

The crowd got really quiet. You could have heard a pin drop. We listened intently to mission control and the mission director discussing what to do. ...

The audience had their fingers, toes, ankles, etc. crossed, hoping the clouds would clear. We were hopeful until they hit 30 seconds and then we knew it was going to be scrubbed. We were all disappointed, but we know the safety of the crew is the major priority. ...

So that's where we are right now. Say a prayer that everything is fine for Saturday. ...

Angela DiNapoli


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