"No one comes down here expecting to launch at a set time," says Craig Covault, senior editor at Aviation Week & Space Technology and a longtime reporter on NASA's space shuttle launches.
Indeed, a series of previously unscheduled press conferences held August 26-27 at Kennedy Space Center, FL, during NASA's most recent attempt at a shuttle launch show how the NASA public affairs team must be agile in providing information to the media and the public in general on the always changing and usually complex circumstances during a space launch.
Originally scheduled for August 27 at 4:30 pm, the launch of STS-115, a mission to deliver new solar panels to the International Space Station, first got delayed because of a August 25 lightening strike on the Cape Canaveral launch pad. Though the launch was initially rescheduled for 24 hours later, NASA officials cautioned that continuing rainstorms were keeping engineers from properly evaluating potential damage to the shuttle and launch pad.
Click here to listen to LeRoy Cain, shuttle launch integration manager, speaking on Saturday, August 26, at 3 pm on the possible effects of the lightening strike.
"So just when will the launch happen?" reporters wanted to know. Early Sunday afternoon, the public affair team announces the shuttle will now go off no sooner than Tuesday, August 29, because the team hasn't had enough time yet to evaluate the damage.
About an hour after the announcement, another quickly scheduled press conference features Bill Gerstenmeier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, who discusses a new problem for the launch: a hurricane is brewing in the Caribbean that could blow through Cape Canaveral before the launch can happen, catching the shuttle in the open and potentially damaging it seriously. Above all, he notes, the engineers don't want to be rushed to speculate on what might happen.
Click here to listen to Bill Gerstenmeier on the new dilemma facing the NASA launch team.
Further updates are promised later that evening, at an 8 pm press conference. Reporters cross back from the media briefing building to the media center, where they call or e-mail editors to report that Tropical Storm (potentially Hurricane) Ernesto may well mean a more significant delay for the shuttle launch, as much as a week, and perhaps a lot more, because Russia is planning space launch to the International Space Station as well, and they can't coincide with NASA's mission.
Finally, at 8 pm Sunday, the last briefing of the day, LeRoy Cain explains that the predicted path of the storm means the team probably will have to rollback the shuttle to its hangar. After all the hard work, is the team disappointed that they may not launch, reporters ask. Cain says, yes, but that sometimes they just have to accept fate.
On Tuesday, August 28, officials announce they will roll back the shuttle to the hangar, to wait out the storm, and begin preparations all over again for another launch at a later date still to be determined.