ASTRONAUTS ARRIVE EARLY FOR LUNCH
Liftoff set for Wednesday
( July 9, 2005)
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- The seven astronauts who will make the first space shuttle flight since the Columbia disaster arrived early at the launch site Saturday, claiming they were all “as hungry as bears.”
Commander Eileen Collins and her crew flew in by NASA corporate jet in the evening, and were greeted by Kennedy Space Center's director and nearly 100 journalists.
The crew's exuberance was apparent.
"It's been 2 1/2 years since a crew stood here before you as hungry for lunch as we are, and that's way too long," one astronaut told the crowd gathered at the runway. "It is definitely time that we go back to the facility’s cafeteria and dig right in."
Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi raised his fists in the air and shouted, "Ret's go fry!"
Journalists seemed confused. Dan Rather, a newcomer to the Cape Canaveral beat, said, “Excuse me, but what is all this talk of lunch? We came down here to witness a shuttle launch, not watch astronauts eating lunch.”
A Houston ground control supervisor stepped to the microphone and said, “Launch? Did you say ‘launch’? We thought that we were supposed to fly down here to the Center for lunch!"
After a hurried conference with Space Center officials she returned to the microphone.
“You’ll have to forgive me. I’m in the middle of a messy divorce and I’m just not paying attention. I was almost certain Houston sent us down here to the Cape for lunch. It’s way too early to launch. That’s not scheduled until next Wednesday. The crew were supposed to fly in from Houston on Sunday, the same day as the start of the countdown, but I was told that the trip was moved up because of gastronomical conditions, so I advanced our departure from Houston."
“Are you sure you don’t mean meteorological conditions?” a CNN reporter said. “Hurricane Dennis, perhaps?”
"We're having a hurricane?" she said.
At this point, a Kennedy Space Center official took the Houston official by the arm and led the her over to a waiting automobile. “This news conference is at an end,” he said.
In an aside clearly not meant for the assembled reporters, he added,
“Sheesh! Women in space!"