Former local resident has upclose ticket to upcoming space shuttle launch

Lee Archambault, commander of space shuttle Discovery (left), leads several of the astronauts across the tarmac upon their arrival at Cape Canaveral  earlier this week.
Photo by Richard Coyle.

The Huntington County TAB is pleased to present our readers with some special editorial material courtesy of former Huntington resident Richard Coyle.

Coyle, who spent 30 years in Huntington with C&C Oil until its sale in 1998, is currently at Cape Canaveral, in Florida, as part of the press contingent awaiting the upcoming launch of the space shuttle Discovery.

Following the sale of C&C, Coyle and his family moved to Lake Forest, IL, where he obtained a Chartered Financial Consultant professional designation from the American College and went into the financial planning profession until his retirement last year.

Pursuing a long-time dream, Coyle has been attending pre-launch events and awaiting the right weather conditions for the launch, all with camera in hand.

Four days before launch, the eight space shuttle Discovery astronauts fly their training jets from Houston, TX, where they've been under quarantine, to Cape Canaveral for the first big media event in the pre-launch period. It's an exciting media event, particularly for a first-time attendee like me. As a freelance photographer, over the years I've always looked for an opportunity to attend a space shuttle launch.

The original NASA launch of mission STS-119 was scheduled for Feb. 12, with the media pre-launch events starting four days prior. Unfortunately, due to a defective "gaseous hydrogen flow control valve" found on Space Shuttle Endeavor during its recent post-mission examination, the Discovery mission was delayed twice.

NASA was being extremely thorough in the vetting process to make sure the current Discovery valves were safe, and, in fact, replaced them with ones that had less wear, as an extra precaution. But in spite of the prior delays, the current launch schedule (now set for Sunday, March 15) looks almost perfect from both a logistics and weather perspective. As they say, "it's good to go!"

Preparing the airstrip for the astronauts' fly-in and landing, the NASA ground crew uses shotguns to disperse any birds in the area, particularly relevant with the recent USAir flight being disabled by a flock of Canada geese. Flying in two groups, the first three trainers with Shuttle Commander Lee Archambault land about 20 minutes before the last two. One of these two contains Koichi Wakata, the Japanese astronaut who will spend the next three months on the International Space Station.

As the trainers taxi in from their landing, they arrive at the tarmac right in front of the press. This includes not only NASA TV and other U.S. national and local media, but also a large contingent of Japanese press, who are covering their own Japanese astronaut's arrival. It's quite a feeling to witness the international cooperation, and the gracious manner with which NASA accommodates everyone, especially the foreign correspondents.

After the astronauts take a short break, they file up to the microphone, where Commander Archambault introduces himself and expresses the group's eagerness to get on with the mission. Then he asks each member to introduce themselves, and say a few words. Each one does so briefly until the last, Wakata, expresses himself in first English, and then repeats it in Japanese for his national press. With that, the commander indicates there won't be time for any questions today, since he and Pilot Tony Antonelli will be doing additional training on the shuttle procedures due to the long delay.

In spite of the lack of Q&A time, I'm feeling great about the photo opportunities presented today, and the chance to meet the crew. It's been a fine introduction to the media events that accompany a space shuttle launch.