NASA hoping for 6th time lucky on Endeavour launch

NASA is hoping to finally launch the aptly-named spacecraft Endeavour today, after numerous mechanical faults and adverse weather conditions scuppered its previous five take-offs.

A spokesman for the launch team, Peter Ian, said yesterday: “It’s been a long time coming, but hopefully tomorrow we should finally get into space. I’ve been waiting all my life for this and each time the launch has been aborted it has become more and more difficult to take.

The first time we aborted was due to the weather, as it was raining quite heavily and we’d have got our spacesuits soaked just walking across the launchpad. We waited in the control room for a couple of hours but it didn’t look like clearing, so we decided to knock it on the head and go home.”

The second attempt was called off for slightly more bizarre reasons, as Mr. Ian recalled: “The weather was clear and everything was set for take-off, but when we got on the craft the captain was looking quizzically at the dashboard and stroking his chin. My heart sank when he said that the fuel gauge was on the red and that the previous crew had forgotten to fill up before returning the shuttle. We had some fuel in the Control Center but unfortunately the nozzle didn’t quite reach as they’d parked it too far away from the pump. Time ran out in the end and we were unable to move the craft across the pad to refuel.”

On the third launch the problems came not with the weather or the mechanics of the craft, but with personnel: “We weren’t due to launch until the afternoon and Mitch, our captain, decided to go do the pub to pass the time for a few hours. We sat waiting for him all afternoon and he still hadn’t shown by half an hour after we were due to leave, so we sent someone to go fetch him and when they found him he was asleep on a table and no-one could wake him up. It became clear that he would have been in no fit state to commandeer a space flight, so again we all went home.”

Mr. Ian said he had become quite despondent by this time and that the increasing disappointment that came with each aborted mission was adversely affecting his home life: “My children were in tears after I came back for the fourth time and my wife said I was hell to be around afterwards. We were scheduled for an early morning take-off this time, due to the events that occurred on the previous attempt. So we arrived at the Control Center at 06:00hrs as planned, but the caretaker hadn’t unlocked the building and none of us had a key. We waited outside for hours, but it became clear that we were going to have to call it off again as no-one could get hold of him. We tried his mobile, but it kept going to answerphone – I lost count of how many messages we left him. We tried his home number, but it just kept ringing and ringing.”

The fifth launch, due to go ahead last week, had to be cancelled as two crew members had forgotten to bring a packed lunch. “I was in tears myself by this point”, recalls Mr. Ian, “Everyone had turned up as planned, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the shuttle had a full tank of gas. Imagine the disappointment when two of the crew, who shall remain nameless, piped up and said that they’d forgotten their lunches. I mean, it’s one of the fundamental parts of being in a space exploration unit which they go on about every day in training. Everyone knows about the adverse effects of entering zero gravity on an empty stomach. You have to have a good two rounds of sandwiches, a packet of crisps and an apple in there to withstand the pressure change at such high altitude.

“They offered to go back home and get them, but one of them lives 80 miles from the base, so it would have been completely unfeasible anyway. Someone else suggested that we just go without them, but we couldn’t get clearance to go with just 4 crew members and so, once again, we had to pull out. I was devastated.”

The Endeavour launch is due to take place later today at 16:00hrs Florida time (00:00 GMT).

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