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Space Shuttle Launch

Aired January 16, 2003 - 10:37   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: But now we have to go to Kennedy Space Center where security is at an all-time high as NASA is counting down the final minutes and seconds to a historic launch. Space shuttle Columbia getting ready to lift off with Israel's first astronaut on board, and our Miles O'Brien is not too far away. He is standing by live -- Miles.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Leon, about a minute to launch right now. Ilan Ramon, the Israel air force colonel strapped in, along with six other crew mates on board the space shuttle Columbia. They are about to embark on a 16-day science mission, 80 experiments in all will be conducted on how microgravity affects themselves, as well as a menegerie of animals on board.

It's been tight security here, and so far, that security plan worked has worked to a T. And so far, the countdown has worked to a T. It has gone off without a hitch. I haven't heard them talk about a single problem, with about 30 seconds to go to launch. Let's listen to Kennedy Space Center Spokesman Bruce Buckingham (ph) as we await the launch of the space shuttle Columbia, its 28th flight, the 113th shuttle mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... and counting. Fifteen seconds. Eleven, 10, 9, 8, 7 -- we have a go for main engine start. Five, 4, 3, 2, 1 -- we have booster ignition and liftoff of space shuttle Columbia with a multitude of national and international space research experiments.

Houston now controlling the flight of Columbia. The international research mission finally underway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger will, Columbia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Columbia now rolling on to the proper asmuth for a 39 degree inclination to orbit. Shuttle in a heads down, wings level position...

O'BRIEN: Space shuttle Columbia now all of 30 seconds into its flight, approaching 1,400 miles an hour. As you look at that spectacular wide shot here at the Kennedy Space Center, first couple of minutes of this flight the most critical as you well know.

The first two minutes aided with the solid rocket boosters, those twin white rockets attached to the orange external fuel tank does about 80 percent of the work of the lift of getting the space shuttle to orbit.

The remainder done by the three main engines attached to the rear end of the space shuttle Columbia. Now a minute into the flight, the space shuttle Columbia now at 3,700 miles an hour. How's that for some acceleration?

We expect the solid rocket booster separation coming very shortly. The commander, Rick Husband, on his second shuttle flight, his first as commander, and below him, on the mid deck, the first Israeli to fly in space. Not in space just yet, but well on his way.

And as we approach the point of the solid rocket boosters, the shuttle took off in the midst of a tight security regimen. Thirty -- excuse me, 30 nautical mile radius around the shuttle launch pad was a no-fly zone, and as you take a look at this graphic, general aviation aircraft excluded from that 30 nautical mile radius around the space shuttle policed by combat air patrols, Blackhawk helicopters, a sophisticated radar system, surface to air missiles.

All of it proved to work out so far because the space shuttle Columbia now as it loses its solid rocket boosters two minutes and five seconds into the flight of the space shuttle Columbia appears well on its way to orbit.

The ride in total, Leon, is eight and a half minutes, six more minutes to go on the main engines of the space shuttle Columbia. After that, the solid -- the external fuel tank will be jetosoned. It goes back into the atmosphere, breaks up and falls harmlessly into the Indian Ocean. The solid rocket boosters are aided by parachutes, dropped into the Atlantic Ocean, they are fished out, refurbished, restacked, and used once again.

But, little piece of history about to be made here as the space shuttle Columbia makes its way towards orbit for a 16-day science mission with an Israeli astronaut on board -- Leon.

HARRIS: You know, Miles, what I'm really curious about is about the security you mentioned moments ago. Did NASA or the government, any intelligence agencies, have any idea or anything -- any expectation that there would be some sort of untoward threat here? Were they expecting Osama bin Laden to show up on the launch pad or what?

O'BRIEN: Well, it is interesting you should mention that, because we have asked them many times, have there been any specific threats aimed at the space shuttle? And the answer is, the space shuttle is such an icon of American technology and such an obvious potential target for terrorism that it is presumed it is considered a possible target. So, it's a way of dodging the question.

Now, how could someone who has that intent cause harm to the shuttle? The point you have got to remember here is that space shuttle, that tremendous force we just witnessed, equates to a fairly good sized nuclear bomb. That's 500,000 gallons of liquid rocket fuel on there, and it wouldn't take too much of a weapon -- in this case, say a small aircraft, to cause a terrible disaster. So, that is why they've been so concerned about it. It, in many ways, Leon, is a sitting duck out there on the launch pad.

HARRIS: Have we been able to watch this for this long in the past? This strikes me as a different-looking shot.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is. It is this shot -- looking up, it's almost got -- looks like it has a different filter on it. It might have something to do with the atmospheric conditions here. There has been a lot of shimmer in the air because of some moisture in the air, and that might have something to do it. I have never seen it quite look like that. All I can -- chalk it up to is that each one is kind of like a snowflake, Leon -- individual in their own way.

HARRIS: Twinkle, twinkle little star there. All right. Good deal. Thanks, Miles, for starring in our launch coverage this morning. Appreciate it. We will get back to you in just a bit.


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