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Fresh Endeavor Crew to Lift Off Under Tight Security

November 25, 2001|From Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — When mission commander Dominic Gorie and his crew rocket into orbit this week, it will be amid unprecedented security during unprecedented times.

Fighter jets, helicopter patrols, SWAT teams, military guards, closed roads, tourist bans, media crackdowns and possibly even antiaircraft artillery are some of the safeguards expected to be in place for NASA's first wartime space shuttle launch.

"We're probably going to be some of the most well-protected people in the world," said Gorie, a Navy captain and former combat pilot.

Gorie has told no one, not even his wife and two children, what types of security measures will be in place for the countdown to Thursday's launch. No one at NASA, in fact, is divulging any details.

All seven astronauts say they're satisfied with what the space agency and the Air Force are doing to protect Endeavour--and themselves--from terrorist attack.

"When this first happened on Sept. 11, one of my first thoughts was, 'A shuttle on the launch pad is a target,' " astronaut Linda Godwin said.

But she is comforted by the precautions.

"I just don't see how they could be doing anything else," she said.

NASA considered keeping Endeavour's 7:41 p.m. launch time a secret until minutes before liftoff. But because the launch time had already been publicized, officials concluded it would be "not only inappropriate but ineffective" to classify the countdown and other mission events, flight director Wayne Hale said.

Endeavour will deliver a fresh three-man crew to the international space station and bring back one astronaut and two cosmonauts who have been living up there since August.

For the first time in 20 years of space shuttle flight, only a select few will be on hand to watch the astronauts depart for the launch pad; journalists and most Kennedy Space Center employees will be barred. Space center roads typically reserved for launch spectators will also be closed, even to the astronauts' guests.

Gorie and his crew expect a smaller crowd than usual to see them off and not just because of space center restrictions. Some of their friends and relatives are afraid to fly to Florida and do not have time to drive.

Space station program manager Tommy Holloway notes that every shuttle flight has risks, given the million-plus parts per ship.

"The only thing I worry about," Holloway said, "is that this team that we have working, flying people in space, stay focused on the job . . . and are not distracted by outside events."

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