As I write this I am at T-plus-8 and yawning.
Like millions of other Americans, I got up at 6:30 yesterday morning to watch astronauts Crippen and Young blast off from Florida (they had booked well in advance so they qualified for the Super-Saver discount fare of $35 million in coach, meals but no movie) and do whatever it is they do up in space, which, I suspect, is mostly get blitzed on Tang, cruise around looking for chicks and play the radio.
("Breaker, breaker, this is The Dynamic Duo eight miles high. It sure is bodacious up here. Traffic on the Beltway seems light. Couple of foxes in a convertible T-bird heading north. You copy, Earth? Can I get an Amen and a big 10-4?")
Anyway, I'm watching the box and they get to T-minus-9 and their "built-in hold" when Chancellor and Brokaw start talking about a breakdown in the backup computer, something about one computer refusing to talk to the other three computers.
It just doesn't sound like a big deal. At worst one of the main computers said something about the backup computer's mother. Like, "Your mama uses retreads." All the computer has to do is apologize, and everything will be cool, right?
Wrong. Now Chancellor and Brokaw and some astronaut-doctor named Kerwin are talking about "hardware" and "software," and I'm thinking, did we suddenly segue into a Tru-Val commercial? Am I about to hear, "Hi, I'm Pat Summerall?"
Eight a.m. now, stuck at T-munis-9 and holding, waiting for the computer operators to fix the frammis by rekeying the jebbetz into the automatic mode, and for all any of us know the problem actually is that some word processor on the Cape has gone bronzo and is spitting out 400 pages of unpaid traffic tickets from Orlando.
Now, being a veteran TV watcher, I know exactly what they ought to do. When anything mechanical doesn't work -- hardware, software, Tupperware -- there's one person you immediately go to. The Fonz Ayyyyy! How many timeshave you seen him at Arnold's with the jukebox on the fritz, and he gives it a little zetz, and then, bammo, out comes "You Were Mine" by the Fireflies.
So, do they call The Fonz? Nooooo.
They call Houston.
Can you imagine this? The problem is sitting there on the pad, lounging in the sun. You couldn't miss it, since it's about the size of Costa Rica. And instead of sending some repairman across the street to fix it (C'mon, how tough would it be to spring for the overtime?T-minus-9 and holding is no time to haggle over a few bucks.) they call Houston. Since when did Houston get the patent on solid-state tuning? What would have happened if the food capsules had spiled? Would they have called Paris?
And then, while we're waiting for Houston to get its computer act together, we find out that there's something screwy in fuel cell No. 3. This, we're assured, is neither a hardware nor a software problem, but a water leakage. A few small drops for mankind. The fuel they use is liquid oxygen, called LOX. Do you have any idea how much good LOX costs nowadays? This they think they can fix up pretty quick, within the hour anyway -- and it's now 9 a.m. in my house -- but then the computer goes out again.
Now I know a little about computers. I work for a newspaper that has an allegedly sophisticated computer system too, one probably designed by the same people who worked over this space shuttle gizmo. I know the kind of problems a computer system poses because ours "goes down" (blatttbloooeyppffttt) five or six times a day. If our computer system was any more sophisticated it would only go down three times a day, and if it was any less sophisticated it would be made of oatmeal. You learn to live with computer breakdowns.
So they put the whole thing on hold.
And now it's 10 and we get word that they will resume the countdown but again they have that built-in hold at T-minus-9. I don't mind missing "Donahue" to see these guys throw it into fourth and leave rubber all over the pad, but I'm not sure that missing "The Joker Is Wild" is worth it.
And the hold sticks, because the computers are still down, still not talking to each other. (For all we know they aren't even going to stay in the same state with each other; you know how temperamental a scorned piece of software can get.) Reprogramming hasn't worked and Hugh Harris, the Voice of Shuttle Control, tells us the decision has been made to abort the mission for the day and come back and try it all again on Sunday morning.
You can read that in two ways. One is that they need a 48-hour break to get all the systems working again, restock the Tang, the LOX and bring in the mid-term graduates from the local key-punch operator school. The other is that it gives them enough time to fly The Fonz down in case they need him for a quick fix.