Video: Inside an astronaut's mind
updated 7/12/2005 4:00:16 PM ET 2005-07-12T20:00:16

With all systems go for tomorrow’s scheduled launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, scheduled for 3:51 p.m. ET, only a potential weather delay stands in the way of liftoff.

Jerry Linenger, a former NASA Shuttle astronaut and current MSNBC analyst, joined Lester Holt on Tuesday to discuss what goes through an astronaut’s head in the hours leading to launch.

To read an excerpt of their interview, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the “Launch” button to the right.

Lester Holt:  The 24 hours before any flight … is there time for jitters and butterflies or are these crews working up to the very last minute?

Jerry Linenger:  I think you got that pretty much out of your system to be honest with you.  The crews are much more relaxed then people think at that point.

You prepared hard.  Hey, they had the past two years to prepare for this one.  So the last 24 hours are pretty much relaxed.  It’s when you go out to the pad, climb into the vehicle, strap in and lie on your back for about three hours before the launch, that’s when you start putting it on perspective; get a little bit of jitters; and then you compartmentalize that away and get ready for the mission.

Holt:  In terms of how the culture of NASA has changed since the Columbia disaster, there is more give and take on potential problems, there are fewer waivers, you’re not going up with as many written up items.  Does that leave an atmosphere of second-guessing even among the crews of ‘What about this? What about that and should we check this again?’

Linenger:  I think we are always very cautious.  You try to minimize every risk that you can and I don’t think we’re ever going to have for example, the solid rocker booster gasket fail like we had on Challenger, and I’m pretty confident the external tank changes that we made are not going to have a piece of foam flying off and damaging that leading edge like we had on Columbia.  But we still have big rocket engines, you’re going 17,000, 18,000 miles an hour on 7 millions pounds of thrust.

It’s never going to be a walk and the park and astronauts know that.

I just heard a little analogy that they said—it’s as if 500 airplanes were crashing everyday—that’s sort of the risk you’re taking going into the shuttle.  So if you wanted to fly from N.Y. to L.A. today you’d have to say ‘OK, they’ll be 500 air crashes today, do I want to take that risk?’  I believe and I think every astronaut I’ve ever met, my friends on Columbia, believe it’s worth the risk, you’re doing something for the world.

Holt:  You’ve gone through your own harrowing experience.  Would that have prevented you from going back up again?

Linenger:  I have family, small children.  I tell you that is part of your calculation and everyone makes their own calculation.  I think we realized post-Challenger the dangers of blast off and we realize now, post Columbia, the dangers of landing and how dynamic that is.

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