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Launch Day #2

We've been bussed to some anonymous building, and we're all lined up in a parking lot behind a rope, waiting for the astronauts. This is the "walkout" where they emerge in their launch suits, wave and get photos taken, then board their bus to the launchpad.

Again, it's a shot I've seen countless times before; they do it at the start of every flight. I can't help but think of the film of the Challenger crew walking out, and seeing Christa McAuliffe, just a couple of hours before the tragedy. In those days they launched in blue coveralls, basically no different than street clothes. Today they'll be in bright orange rescue suits, better equipped to survive if something goes wrong (and easier for rescue crews to spot them as well).

I'm trying to put these negative thoughts out of mind--no one else here seems worried.

We get word: "They're coming out of the elevator!" Then they emerge into the sunlight, waving and smiling. All the cameras are clicking, and people cheer. I think of how hard these astronauts and engineers have worked to get ready for this day, and how frustrated they've been by the postponements (a month from launch last fall, first Hurricane Ike, then a computer failure on Hubble that delayed the launch by six months).

They do look happy; the mission commander, Scooter Altman, who has flown before, told me for them the walkout feels like Christmas morning.

Then they board their astro van, and drive away, headed for the shuttle. We line up to get back in our buses, and head back to the Press Site.
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