THIS IS THE WEEK we at NASA are scheduled to launch the second Space Shuttle. On the 41-mile drive from home in Fairfax, I review the plans for assisting the media during the 5 1/2-day mission. Have established a shuttle newsroom near the operations control center (OPSCON), the place for tracking and communicating with the shuttle and supporting 27 other orbiting satellites. Monday
Call Cape Kennedy to check on time of press conference there and ask for a copy of the schedule of TV events. Talk to astronaut Tony England at Johnson Space Center in Houston about interviews during his visit to Goddard for the mission. Watch press conference from Cape on closed circuit TV.
Phone calls start coming in from the media and public. "What time will it be over Boston?" one asks. "Can I interview an astronaut?" "Did any company in New England build anything on the scientific payload?" Between calls we talk with staff about duties during the mission and establish a work schedule. I prepare a fact sheet for the press kit on the primary events of the mission.
Still a little stiff from covering the Marine Corps Marathon in my moonlight job (without pay) as associate editor of TrackMaster magazine, a publication for older runners.
At home that night, I call Newport News for details of the Coliseum Mall race, which I had covered in Hampton the previous weekend. Tuesday
Up early and vote at Layton Hall School. At Goddard, write a press release on one of our aeronautical engineers being elected president of the American Astronautical Society.
Dictate a shuttle status report for our code-a-phone. Check on newsroom to confirm phones, TV monitors, desks and tables and pads and pencils are there for the media.
Andy Barth and Marc DeLeon from Channel 2 in Baltimore arrive to interview Mike Stevens, shuttle network manager, and Tony England. Ed Turney, Bill McDougall and Dale Gibson show up from Channel 7 to interview England, as do Lisa Champeau and cameraman from Channel 13 in Baltimore.
Pack press kits for delivery to the newsroom and to visitor viewing areas. Heavy number of phone calls inquiring about the mission. Check our public affairs console in OPSCON, which has direct communications with the Cape, Houston and Dryden, where Columbia will land. From Bill Lechner, I get the times the shuttle will be visible to the naked eye in the Washington area. Watch the TV news shows to see how we did. Outstanding jobs by the stations, I think.
I'm satisfied we had a good day; I leave for home about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Up at 4 a.m. for the drive to Goddard. Open newsroom and welcome media. Bill Lechner calls to give me two more times people will be able to sight the shuttle. Monitor the progress at the Cape on closed circuit TV. Escort media on tours of OPSCON, mission control room and NASA Communications Network (NASCOM). Arrange for news photographers to take photos in OPSCON; no flash or flood-lights.
Watch the media and VIPs in OPSCON area as countdown reaches one minute. They all seem to move forward in their seats, and most of them are nervously wringing their hands. Some cross their fingers.
Then T-minus 31 seconds; the countdown stops. A sigh of disappointment bounces around the room. Announcement of a two-hour delay brings some folks out into the lobby for coffee. Finally, a postponement of "at least 48 hours" is announced.
Hold press conference with England and Dick Sade, networks director, to explain the delay of the mission. During lunch, we hold a critique on the operation. Several good suggestions come out of the session. Gene Guerny, my boss, advises that we have to start plans for the launch of Landsat-D, a sophisticated earth resources satellite to be launched from the West Coast next year.
Ed Turney and crew and Lisa Champeau and cameramen return for more interviews. David Atlas calls to advise that a crew from the Canadian Broadcasting Company will be here Friday to interview him on hail suppression.
After 14 hours at the center, I head home. Thursday
Conduct staff meeting to review our performance on Wednesday. No complaints from the media and none from Goddard management. We come up with several ideas for improvement, however, and plan to incorporate them when launch does come.
Photographer Peter Beltzell and I take Tony England to WMAR-TV in Baltimore for appearance on "Romper Room." When we learn the mission has been delayed a week, we rush him back so he can fly his T-38 back to Houston to be home for his daughter's birthday party. Friday
On the way to work, I drive by the Marine Barracks in the hope of picking up printout from the Marine Corps Marathon. I'm not even allowed in the gate, but a guard tells me there's a phone around the corner, so I call.
After considerable discussion, most of it unfriendly, the Marines agree to give me a list of top three winners in each age category -- a far cry from the complete list they always have provided and had promised this time. We promised TrackMaster readers a complete list also. Who said the Marine Corps had good public relations?
NASA Headquarters calls to ask if we can assist two journalists from the Netherlands on Monday. They want to see what goes on at Goddard. Tour is arranged.
Check with the Cape and with Houston again. Announcement to be made Saturday on new launch date. Looks like Nov. 12, I'm told.
I arrange to go to Harrisburg for the weekend. I will cover the Harrisburg Marathon and fly with Bob Jones in his Pitt Special acrobatic airplane. Saturday
Frank Lambdin, TrackMaster publisher, arrives at the house about 6:30 a.m. We take my car and pick up Ed Beall, the magazine's calendar editor, and head for Harrisburg and to the airport at Maytown, where Jones is waiting. Too windy to fly, however.
Check in with Vic Alt, race coordinator, and go to the YMCA to pick up race materials.
We stop by Nissley Vineyard for a tour and wine tasting. Sunday
A beautiful day, both for the marathon and for flying. I watch the start of the 26.2-mile race and get with Vic Alt and John Scheib in Scheib's Jeep, which is the communications center for the race. We tour the race route, Vic checking on the race and I photographing the runners. By 2 p.m., most of the runners are finished.
We go to the Maytown Airport again. As a former Air Force jet fighter pilot, I really am excited about getting a chance to fly again and to do acrobatics in a plane so renowned for its ability to do them. I ride in front -- an open cockpit -- so Jones gives me a beat-up leather helmet.
Bob, who has won several trophies for his acrobatic flying, does rolls, loops, Immelmanns, Cuban eights and hammerhead stalls, then turns it over to me.
I find the ship not quite as sensitive on the controls as I had thought it would be. I do a couple of turns, then try some rolls, but I don't remember being this sloppy before. When we come down, Jones introduced me to Dick Hess, who offers a ride in his hot air balloon. By the time we can get set to go, it's dusk, so we just go up about 100 feet, the gigantic, colorful balloon tethered. It's wonderful, so quiet. I can imagine what free flight would be like, and Dick invites me back to make one. Too bad it's getting dark, Jones says, you could have made a parachute jump, too. Sure I could, I think.
I get home about 11:45 p.m. The excitement of the weekend easily makes up for the disappointment of the week.