In the grandstands at Kennedy Space Center, the crowd waits for the countdown to tick along. It is a brisk and clear Monday, in the 50s, and the sun is shining on friends and relatives of the space shuttle Challenger's seven crew members.
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Across the state, citrus workers scramble, hauling out fuel-oil heaters and preparing to move them into the fields. They flood their groves with warm groundwater. They bank dirt around young trees. A third freeze will strike the deathblow to thousands of citrus acres.
The fruit trees surrounding Kennedy Space Center, growing on the northern edge of the Citrus Belt, are especially vulnerable. The last freeze killed 840 acres on federal land just north of the space shuttle launch complex.
On the northernmost part of the launch complex, Challenger sits poised above the flatlands. No shelters or walls surround it on pad 39B. Nothing will block the coming arctic winds.
Inside the crew cabin, the seven astronauts are strapped into place, eager to go. After five one-day delays, this looks like the day NASA will rocket a teacher into space.
Along with the hundreds of other spectators, Christa McAuliffe's parents are waiting in the grandstands near the Launch Control Center. Her husband and two children are with the immediate families of other shuttle crew members, watching from an office on the fourth floor inside the control center.
They are confident, and they are proud of Christa, who was picked from among 11,400 teacher applicants. They believe in her mission to humanize space.
But everyone grows a little tired from sustaining the thrill through so many delays. The third-graders from young Scott McAuliffe's class are fidgety while they wait outside at KSC. The students visiting from the Concord, N.H., high school are bursting with tension. And, back at Concord High, where McAuliffe teaches social studies, the 1,200 students are ready with party hats and noisemakers.
Then a bolt sticks on the shuttle's hatch.
The closeout crew can't close the door. They decide to drill it out. But they can't find a drill. Then the drill they manage to find fails. Then a second drill can't complete the job. With a hacksaw, they finally cut the bolt off.
Just as it comes off, though, the winds start up. They whip to 30 mph -- too dangerous in case the shuttle has to make an emergency landing before entering orbit. Shortly before 1 p.m., Mission Control tells the crew to climb down. They'll try again tomorrow -- Tuesday morning.
Drained from almost five hours of waiting inside the shuttle, stiff from sitting on the hard seats with their legs up, crew members drag themselves out of the orbiter.
It is the sixth launch postponement for Challenger. It follows seven launch postponements in December and January for Columbia. And this is to be NASA's most ambitious year: 15 shuttle missions are planned.
As the crowd leaves the viewing stands, NASA's mission management team convenes inside the launch control building to plan tomorrow's try. NASA asks its shuttle contractors to assemble any pertinent data for what looks to be the coldest launch ever.
Outside the control center, rows of fruit trees edge up within a mile of the building. More than 1,500 acres of oranges, grapefruit, tangelos and tangerines grow around it on government land under lease to private growers.
Citrus workers nearby start flooding ditches around their groves at KSC. But NASA workers do not have time to drain the 300,000 gallons of water at the launch pad. The water is used to cool the tower after liftoff and flood the pad to suppress damaging sound waves at ignition.
They pour in antifreeze instead. They let the pipes drip. And they switch on the shuttle's heaters.