Thousands Of Reporters Converge On Space Center

As hordes of reporters wait for the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis, it's unclear if they'll see a blast off or a lot of rain. About 1 million people are expected to watch the historic launch in Florida — and many more will tune in through TV, radio or the web.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And there are a couple thousand reporters at Kennedy Space Center waiting for the shuttle to lift off. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce is among them.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE: The grass is soggy, my notebook is soggy. Our studio is set up in a tent outside the press center. It leaks sometimes. Once there was so much lightning we had to seek shelter in our car. All around, there are more tents, TV trucks, camera crews. Inside the press center, it's dry but crazy.

(Soundbite of people talking)

Unidentified Man: One question a day, that's all you get.

Unidentified Man #2: All right. I'll save it up.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: The phones never stop ringing. All kinds of news outlets are here.

Unidentified Woman: (foreign language spoken)

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Folks from Europe, Japan. NASA's spokesman Allard Beutel has been with the agency since 2002. He says the final launch has brought some new faces, reporters who have never covered a launch before.

Mr. ALLARD BEUTEL (Spokesman, NASA): We've got people who, A., have never, that literally don't know where the people sit inside the shuttle.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Plus, he says, there's grizzled old veteran reporters who have returned to say:

Mr. BEUTEL: I've covered it 30 years ago and I'm covering it again now. It's kind of like, for some of them, it's going home week. Hugging and I haven't seen you in, you know, decades. Well, I'm back to cover the very last launch.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: But with all these reporters here, NASA is working hard to try and keep the big story from just being about an ending.

Ms. LORI GARVER (Deputy Administrator, NASA): Today, we're here this morning to talk about the future.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver is giving is a press conference in a big white tent on NASA's plans to venture forth, maybe to an asteroid.

Ms. GARVER: I am standing in front of the test article of the Orion MPC vehicle. This vehicle is what is going to allow NASA, on behalf of the American people in the world, to explore again beyond the low Earth orbit.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: It's a big white capsule. You can climb up stairs and look inside but there's no seats or anything. It's mostly empty. Right next door is another place to get out of the rain.

(Soundbite of applause)

GREENFIELDBOYCE: I'm in a big tent right now and there's tables with people staring at their computer screens. These people are all tweeting. NASA has organized a big tweet-up, and right now they're waiting for a famous guest that NASA has invited.

Unidentified Man #3: He's furry, he's red and he's here all the way from Sesame Street. So, please help me welcome Elmo.

(Soundbite of applause)

ELMO: Hello. Hi. Hey, everybody.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Elmo is wearing a blue NASA suit, just like the two astronauts he's chatting with. They teach Elmo how to do a countdown.

Unidentified Man #3: We're going to go backwards, Elmo.

ELMO: OK, backwards.

Unidentified Man #3: We're not going to go up. We're going to backwards, down and one is...

ELMO: Elmo heard you, Mr. (unintelligible)...

Unidentified Man #3: At zero you're going to blast off.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #3: All right. OK. Ten...

GREENFIELDBOYCE: When will everyone - the reporters here and the world - get to hear the final seconds of the real countdown? Well, that one probably depends on the weather.

Unidentified Man #3: ...two, one, blastoff.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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