This mission was supposed to happen in 2003 and then Columbia disintegrated and the Atlantis flight to the space station was put on hold. Three years passed, and then when Atlantis was finally given a green light an unbelievable series of events kept it grounded for two more weeks.
Let's recount the problems. To start with, a lightning bolt hit the launch pad. Then an approaching Hurricane Ernesto pushed NASA into a Keystone Kops caper. Atlantis was hustled, well slowly moved, off the pad and then when the hurricane turned, the shuttle itself did a U-turn.
Once the weather cleared, the technical glitches began. A pump on one of the fuel cells failed and a squirreley fuel sensor acted up. But, Atlantis finally lifted off and the mission itself went beautifully. Space walking astronauts installed a 17 and a half ton truss and solar panels on the international space station. The work was done ahead of time, and only a couple of bolts were lost in the process.
So, the crew and NASA were feeling good about a job well done and Atlantis began its trek home.
And that's precisely when the mystery objects began to appear. First there was one, then another, and now three more -- little specks of space debris or tiny UFOs, which are causing NASA some big headaches.
Engineers were worried the debris may be pieces of the shuttle's heat shield needed for a safe re-entry, but now those fears have eased. Experts studying the strange images think the mystery objects may be small bits of material which simply floated out of the shuttle's cargo bay, perhaps even pieces of lint or small twists tie used to secure cables.
In any case, the objects appear to be more of a nuisance than a threat and NASA is increasingly optimistic the shuttle will come home tomorrow.
And when it lands, there will be a collective sigh of relief that one very strange trip has finally ended.
Dick Meyer alludes to that, and a lot of other interesting things, in his column this week. Is the country really polarized? Maybe not. Check it out.
Notebook: Muslims React
For more, click the monitor to watch.
First Look: United Nations
Jim was in New York for the President's speech to the United Nations -- a source of much anticipation, not to mention urban gridlock -- and took a minute to give us this preview of tonight's CBS Evening News.
Just click the monitor to watch.
(Once again, alas, the foundation elected to pass over the hardworking staff of
"C&C" and instead give its loot to people who grow flowers and study turtles. Go figure.)
One of the winners is an expert in our word of the day.
bioluminescence ( bye-oh-loom-in-ESS-ence)) n. Emission of visible light by living organisms such as the firefly and various fish, fungi, and bacteria.We at "Couric & Co." salute the winners of the MacArthur genius grants. Some of us are giving off celebratory bioluminescence, even as we speak. (Though that may have something to do with the chili we had for lunch…)
Favorite quote, from Bill Maher:
"If I or my representatives got it wrong about how the 'Free Speech' segment of the 'CBS Evening News' is, sorry, our bad," Maher said yesterday in a statement. "I'm ready, willing and able to speak about the topic I originally suggested."
Seems Bill Maher has been somewhat outspoken about the CBS Evening News "freeSpeech" segment. A few readers have been very displeased about what he's said, and accused CBS of playing dirty pool.
Over at Public Eye, they've been doing a little digging on the story, and gotten more details.
In an e-mail, (CBS Evening News Executive Producer) Rome Hartman also said that Maher was not told the topic of religion was off limits, that all prospective "freeSpeech" participants are given "suggested topics" in order to yield timely commentary and avoid repetition. Hartman added, "no effort was made to dictate content to him or anyone else, other than that we have told everyone that we won't air personal attacks, and that we're seeking an overall tone of civility and respect, even while airing very divergent views."Head over to PE and read the whole thing.