Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Longing For The Days Of A Ho-Hum Shuttle Launch

Back in my days at CBS News Radio, we dutifully covered every shuttle launch. Between the disasters of Challenger and Columbia, the media and the public settled into a langour about the space program, regarding launches and landings as little more than routine.
A typical launch broadcast on radio would begin about a minute before launch, and quickly sign off three minutes or so later after solid rocket booster separation. Breathe a sigh of relief and now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
As Discovery took off this morning, the press trailers at Cape Canaveral are again fully staffed. It was nice for the media to be on hand for a launch that could not have been better. "This was as trouble free as I can remember and I've covered a lot of shuttle flights," said CBS News space analyst Bill Harwood.
I was first at Cape Canaveral for a launch in 1998 when John Glenn went up for his encore space visit. Hundreds of reporters, including all the network anchors, made the trip down. Three years later, I came back with CBS News Correspondent Peter King, who anchors the radio coverage, for another launch that was scrubbed because of weather. Those press trailers that were occupied were only minimally staffed, with the regulars who are there because you're supposed to have someone there, you know, just in case.
In a way, I preferred the latter visit. It meant that something so incredibly dangerous and daring had once again become routine. What could possibly go wrong. And so it was for dozens of missions until Columbia.
Here's hoping for a return to the days when my friend Peter, as able a broadcaster as he is, returns to his three-minute broadcasts real soon.

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