Page 025


Undergound. Go to Table of Contents.

   On 16 October the news came. The Appeals Court had sided with NASA.

  

   Protesters were out in force again at the front gate of the Kennedy

   Space Center. At least eight of them were arrested. The St Louis

   Post-Dispatch carried an Agence France-Presse picture of an

   80-year-old woman being taken into custody by police for trespassing.

   Jane Brown, of the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice, announced,

   `This is just ... the beginning of the government's plan to use

   nuclear power and weapons in space, including the Star Wars program'.

  

   Inside the Kennedy Center, things were not going all that smoothly

   either. Late Monday, NASA's technical experts discovered yet another

   problem. The black box which gathered speed and other important data

   for the space shuttle's navigation system was faulty. The technicians

   were replacing the cockpit device, the agency's spokeswoman assured

   the media, and NASA was not expecting to delay the Tuesday launch

   date. The countdown would continue uninterrupted. NASA had everything

   under control.

  

   Everything except the weather.

  

   In the wake of the Challenger disaster, NASA's guidelines for a launch

   decision were particularly tough. Bad weather was an unnecessary risk,

   but NASA was not expecting bad weather. Meteorologists predicted an 80

   per cent chance of favourable weather at launch time on Tuesday. But

   the shuttle had better go when it was supposed to, because the longer

   term weather outlook was grim.

  

   By Tuesday morning, Galileo's keepers were holding their breath. The

   countdown for the shuttle launch was ticking toward 12.57 p.m. The

   anti-nuclear protesters seemed to have gone quiet. Things looked

   hopeful. Galileo might finally go.

  

   Then, about ten minutes before the launch time, the security alarms

   went off. Someone had broken into the compound. The security teams

   swung into action, quickly locating the guilty intruder ... a feral

   pig.

  

   With the pig safely removed, the countdown rolled on. And so did the

   rain clouds, gliding toward the space shuttle's emergency runway, about

   six kilometres from the launchpad. NASA launch director Robert Sieck

   prolonged a planned `hold' at T minus nine minutes. Atlantis had a

   26-minute window of opportunity. After that, its launch period would

   expire and take-off would have to be postponed, probably until

   Wednesday.

  

   The weather wasn't going to budge.

  

   At 1.18 p.m., with Atlantis's countdown now holding at just T minus

   five minutes, Sieck postponed the launch to Wednesday.

 

                            [ ]

  

   Back at the SPAN centre, things were becoming hectic. The worm was

   spreading through more and more systems and the phones were beginning

   to ring every few minutes. NASA computers were getting hit all over

   the place.

  

   The SPAN project staff needed more arms. They were simultaneously

   trying to calm callers and concentrate on developing an analysis of