NASA Relaxes Some Shuttle Launch Security

Some security go back to pre-9/11 practices, 'normal operations' now at work


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA officials are confident enough about their security measures that they are changing back to some pre-Sept. 11 practices, and the London bombings didn't change their plans, a spokesman said Friday.

During the last space shuttle launch 2˝ years ago, NASA didn't make public the liftoff time until the day before Columbia blasted into space. This time, the liftoff time for Discovery has been publicized well in advance.

"Whatever restrictions we had in place post-9/11 have been eased," said Michael Braukus, a public affairs officer at NASA headquarters in Washington. "So we're just back to more or less what is ... normal operations in regards to the media activities, as well as other security operations."

He said no changes were made to the security plan as a result of the bomb attacks Thursday morning that killed dozens of people in the London subway and bus systems.

"Our security team will be continuing to evaluate what's taking place in the world," Braukus said. "If something is necessary ... we'll take the appropriate steps."

During the first shuttle launch after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, in December of that year, roads typically reserved for launch spectators were closed, fighter jets patrolled the air around the site, and the helicopter that usually escorts the astronaut caravan to the launchpad had armed SWAT team members at the doors.

Some restrictions eased during subsequent launches, but during the launch of Columbia in January 2003, with Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon as a crew member, photographers were still kept at a greater distance than usual.

Braukus said he didn't know if the helicopter escorting the astronaut caravan for next week's launch would have armed SWAT team members.

Fighter jets, while they might not be obvious in the area, will be at the ready, said Master Sgt. John Tomassi, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado. "We will provide protection and deterrence value for the launch," he said.

Some of the roads that were closed in 2001 will be open to spectators, but other post-Sept. 11 security measures will remain in place.

Spectators who view the launch from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex or from a causeway on space center property will have to pass through metal detectors. NASA also instituted stricter crowd control measures after the Columbia explosion in 2003 showed how tens of thousands of pieces of metal could drop onto populated areas.

"I believe we have a very good plan mixed with an appropriate level for the public to actually see what we're doing here," said Lisa Malone, director of external relations at the Kennedy Space Center. "That's important to us."