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Launch Day #1

In 16 years, producing or coproducing five documentary films on space, 11 hours of programming in total, I've never seen a single space launch in person. I've constructed "launch scenes" in films many times, but today will be my first experienced for real.

"There's excitement in the air here" might be a clichéd phrase, but at Cape Canaveral this morning it seems perfectly apt. There are many hundreds of people milling around in the Public Affairs building, probably thousands in total spread across the grass at the site. The place is buzzing.

The giant digital countdown clock is on the lawn in front of us, and scores of live broadcast and webcast booths are set up in tents. Some of the old guard (CBS, NBC) have air-conditioned permanent cinderblock buildings (which from the looks of them must date back to the early years of the Space Race and Apollo launches).

I've seen all this before, in old film footage from the Apollo years or watching shuttle launches on TV--but to actually be here feels very different.

For one thing, after working for two years following the astronauts and engineers conducting this mission, filming them and spending time together, I know the people who will be sitting on top of the rocket. I'm acutely aware of the danger involved, and it's not a good feeling; I'm actually pretty nervous.

Jets and helicopters are patrolling the air space around the launch site, and their noise overhead contributes to the sense of nervous energy.

Now we're off to board buses to see the astronauts walk out--basically a photo op before they board the shuttle. First we have to get all our bags, cameras, and gear "sniffed" by an explosives-sniffing dog.

It's extremely hot--in the mid-90s--and I'm sweating bullets. For some reason, the dog seems oblivious to the heat.

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