Number Nine

Scrub Number One came not with a bang but a whimper. But, then, that’s sort of the point, right?

I was in Florida shortly after my 30th birthday, hoping NASA would light a rather large candle for the occasion. I was there for an education conference, the highlight of which was to be the launch of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

At that point, I was one-for-one on launches, at least in my adult life. Earlier that year, I had attended the Astronaut Hall of Fame induction, and during the dinner had witnessed the last Titan launch from KSC, which was a rather cool experience.

My first scrub was a rather anticlimactic experience. They came into the conference the day before the scheduled launch to tell us there was a problem with the vehicle, and launch was being pushed back a day. I called back to work, and got permission from my boss to stay an extra day, which meant I was able to be there for …

Scrub Number Two. This time, we woke up at a time that, before this current trip, seemed ridiculous, and went ought to the NASA Causeway viewing area at KSC. Where we waited and waited and waited. Only to have the launch scrubbed about five minutes before launch. I watched the MRO launch on TV at home the next day.

Scrub Number Three was about a year later. STS-121 was the Return to Return to Flight mission; a year earlier, STS-114 had been the first flight since the Columbia accident, but had revealed more issues NASA needed to fix before resuming regular flights.

I had been wanting to try to attend a launch, and this was the first opportunity in a while, so four of us loaded up in a car and headed for Florida. There was an incredible crowd there that first day, and we spent hours sitting on a pier on the river in Titusville, waiting, ultimately, for weather to scrub the launch with minutes left on the clock, and, in the process, earning the worst sunburn of my life.

Scrub Number Four came the next day. The weather was substantially worse — it rained on us while we were on the pier — and the crowd was much smaller. Nonetheless, they made a valiant effort with launch preparations, until, finally, as they were preparing to shut the hatch, the orbiter radioed back to launch control asking, before they closed things out, whether there was really any chance they were going that day.

At least we didn’t have to wait nearly as long for the scrub.

I watched the STS-122 launch on TV at home two days later.

Scrubs Number Five through Seven were all in one trip just over two years ago, for the STS-122 launch. These were different in that they were all announced hours before launch, since they stemmed from an issue revealed during fueling of the shuttle’s large external tank. Basically, we would wake up in the morning, check the news, and have the rest of the day to do what we wanted. That trip, for example, included a visit to Epcot.

I watched STS-122 on TV months later, after the issue was resolved.

Scrub Number Eight was less than four months ago, when I was here for the Ares I-X launch. Concerns over triboelectrification, and a wayward boat, meant that, after we waited for hours on the Causeway, the window closed with no launch.

I-X was different from previous scrubs, however, in that it broke a streak — I watched the launch not on TV, but from the Causeway the next day.

Scrub Number Nine was this morning, and I’m hoping that streak continues. Despite weather having been 80 percent Go as recently as yesterday, it ultimately prevented this morning’s launch of STS-130. I’m hoping that the 60 percent green they’re giving us now for tomorrow us better than yesterday’s 80 percent.

That said, either way, I had an unlikely thought go through my head today as we were coming back — a line from a Trace Adkins song, “You’re gonna miss this.”

She was beautiful this morning. I had never seen an orbiter like that before. Always before, I was at an angle where she was hidden behind the pad, or, when I’d gone out to the launch complex, she was covered by the servicing structure still. This morning, we were at an angle where we could see her fully and clearly. And, wow, she’s beautiful.

And this is it. Five more times. And then there won’t even be scrubs anymore. And who knows now what the future will hold. And, yeah, I’m gonna miss it. Heck, I’ll even miss coming down for scrubs.

I’m going back to the Causeway in just a few hours. I hope I get to see Endeavour launch. I really do.

But, if not, how awesome is it to be able to go spend just a few more hours with an old friend, one more time?

Godspeed, Endeavour!

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