Shuttle watchers: Reagan rocket collectors, rescue specialists, and country western singers

President Reagan was up early on his first full day back at the White House on April 12, rising at 6:50 a.m. to watch the launch of the space shuttle Columbia on television.

While spending most of the day off his feet, the President conveyed his wishes to the astronauts through a message read from Mission Control in which he said: "May God bless you and may God bring you safely home to us again."

While many Americans watched the space shuttle race into the sky, some were already hustling to recover the two solid-fuel rockets which parachuted into the Atlantic after takeoff.

Al Notary, manager of retrieval efforts, said a Soviet fishing trawler was shooed away from the recovery area by the Coast Guard about 20 minutes before the Columbia took off.

The two rockets were snagged according to plan and are being towed to Port Canaveral, Fla. But it may be awhile before they reach the Kennedy Space Center for a damage assessment.

Both $25 million rockets sustained damage when they splashed down in the ocean Sunday. Plans called for floating the sealed, empty rocket cannisters like logs up the relatively shallow Banana River to the space center.

But because of damage to the boosters' guidance nozzles, the rockets could not be made watertight and had to be towed at a slant with the unsealed ends protruding from the sea.

In their diagonal towing attitude, the 149-feet-long rockets would run aground in the river.

More than 150 rescue specialists gathered at Edwards Air Force Base in California to aid with the landing of the space shuttle Columbia.

Pursuit planes, helicopters, and even an "aerial observatory" were in the air to watch the Columbia land in the Mojave Desert east of Los Angeles. Doctors, parachutists, and riot-control police were also on hand.

Space shuttle astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen woke up to a country-and-western song about their historic mission early April 13 as their delta-winged craft Columbia sped along in orbit.

Inspired by the space shuttle, Kennedy Space Center technician Gerry Rucker sat down a couple of weeks ago and wrote a country song he dubbed "Columbia -- the Mean Machine." It's sung by Roy McCall, a musician who recorded it in Orlando, Fla., after hearing it once at his home.

Hurtling through the heavens at 17,500 m.p.h., the space shuttle looks like a moving star -- a speck of light visible one minute and gone the next.

The Kennedy Space Center in Florida has been deluged with telephone calls since launch-time on Sunday from would-be shuttle-gazers wondering when to look skyward to catch a glimpse of the vehicle.

NASA spokesman Rocky Raab said the best time for viewing has been shortly before sunrise when the sun's reflection illuminates the orbiter in the darkened sky.

But a computer analysis by the Systems Analysis and Integration Laboratory at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., shows that only space buffs in the southeastern US and Texas will catch a glimpse of shuttle as it travels eastward across the US during its final orbit on April 14.

Government biologists visited the nesting ground of a colony of herons and egrets a mile from the space shuttle's launch pad on April 13 and found no sign of permanent harm from the awesome roar and shock wave caused by the blastoff.

Robert C. Lee Jr., manager of the 240,000-acre Merritt Island National Wildlife Preserve, which overlaps the Kennedy Space Center, said, "They saw more birds than ever before at the site.

It's not all space jargon and business aboard the shuttle Columbia. Astronauts Young and Crippen took a minute Tuesday to play a joke on Mission Control in Houston.

While making a pass over Australia, Young asked Houston if the Columbia had made radio contact.

"Hello commander, you are weak but readable. How're you doing?" Then came the voice of backup commander Joe Engle: "Henry's asked us to handle this pass for you. How're you doing?"

There was a long pause before Houston came back: "Ah, Columbia, is a fictional crew aboard today?"

Then it was Crippen's turn: "Just the question crew. They decided to sneak up," he said.

Young and Crippen had apparently sneaked a prerecorded tape of Engle's message aboard and played it as a joke. But later on, Houston got even, referring to Crippen, who employs romping before the shuttle's TV cameras, as "Cecil B. DeCrippen."

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