Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Wildfire brings drama

NASA weather girl Kathy Winters (officially known as the Shuttle weather officer) is relied upon to get the forecast spot on in the days before a Space Shuttle launch.

At the pre-launch press conference this morning her main worry was a cold front moving through Thursday evening, which would mix with the warm and humid air and set off lightening storms.

This is at the crucial time when the launch pad’s so-called rotating service structure is pulled back from protecting the orbiter so the loading of fuel can begin.

Needless to say, any kind of lightening strike in the locality at such a volatile time would not be desirable.

But what Kathy (pictured above) could not know as she was speaking and the relaxed press conference was drawing to a close was that outside over the southern flank of KSC a bush fire was raging out of control.

At first it had seemed rather innocuous as a pall of dark smoke billowed into the blue sky. On the ground it was spreading like wildfire, fanned into life by a strong southerly breeze.

Some six hours later it was still raging out of control, with a helicopter dumping water to try and halt its march. Its progress had been frighteningly quick and far.

The launch pad was sufficiently far away not to come into the equation if it had been launch day - but it would have certainly marred the view for the press and others watching from KSC.

Bush fires and lightening storms aside, Friday’s launch day weather forecast remained positive, with the only possible violation coming in at just a 20 percent chance of high altitude winds making it unsafe for liftoff.

With Mike Moses reporting nothing out of the ordinary in terms of the Shuttle’s processing on the pad things are going smoothly.

And, just for the record, the temperatures in this part of Florida have been in the mid-80s this week, with humid air and strong winds. They say this is more typical of July than April - haven’t I heard that somewhere else recently?

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