Today brought a special kind of journalistic agony for Bob Hohler, 34, a reporter and columnist for the Concord Monitor in Concord, N.H., home town of Christa McAuliffe, the any-day-now teacher in space.
Hohler says he has come to think of McAuliffe as a "second wife." For seven months, he has followed the social studies teacher from Concord High through her journey from obscurity to national celebrity.
Sunday night, Hohler slept little. "This was the big day," he said. "We've had some potentially important [political] primaries in Concord, and we had a visit from Bernie Goetz [New York's subway vigilante] not long ago, but basically, for Concord, this is the story of a decade, if not a century."
McAuliffe's trip into orbit today was scheduled to start during a three-hour period beginning at 9:37 a.m. Otherwise it had to wait at least a day. Hohler's deadline for sending his story to the afternoon Monitor is about 12:30 p.m., perhaps as late as 1 p.m.
For him, this morning was a torture of bad, then good, then bad weather and mechanical delays.
At about 12:30 p.m., Hohler and Monitor science writer Ralph Jimenez filed a story saying the mission was scrubbed. But officials extended the "window" for the launch until 1:07 p.m. Finally, at about 12:45, officials postponed the launch until at least Tuesday.
Hohler had spent the morning bent over his computer terminal, his face tight with tension, or on the phone with editors.
Hohler said he has written perhaps 50 stories about McAuliffe, including a three-part series chronicling her life.
It began, he said, in her "poor days as a baby in Boston, living in a one-room apartment near Fenway Park" and later in a low-income housing project while her father struggled to finish college.
Hohler has watched McAuliffe and her family change since her days as one of 10 finalists to become the first teacher aboard a shuttle flight.
"I remember the first day on the White House lawn" when her selection was announced, he said, "she walked away from the podium with the mike wire still attached to her dress and nearly pulled the mike off. And she had a nervous giggle."
Today, he said, "she has . . . a smooth style, almost like a politician. She can dance around tough questions . . . .
"It's some kind of testament to NASA's selection process," he added, "that they can take somebody like this and make them a media star and have them be so comfortable with it."
Indeed, he said, New Hampshire Democrats, hungry for an edge in the state's overwhelmingly Republican political scene, have talked of her running for office. Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, another New Hampshire product, refused such a suggestion.