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 » Mission: Safety  |  Crew  |  Audio quiz  |  Shuttle milestones

Scrubbed launch sinks spectators' hopes

By Geneen Pipher
CNN

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Michael Neighbors of Evansville, Indiana, swims past the disappointed crowds.

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National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Space Exploration

PORT CANAVERAL, Florida (CNN) -- Spectators crowded the bank of the Banana River anticipating the first space shuttle launch in 2 1/2 years.

Many set up camp in the wee hours in hopes of getting the best possible view.

By midday Wednesday, the roadside was packed with people. Storm clouds that threatened to postpone the launch had lifted and the mood was high.

"It's going to happen," Michael Neighbors of Evansville, Indiana, said as he swam past the crowds.

It was shaping up to be a picture-perfect afternoon.

About two hours before scheduled liftoff, cell phones began ringing and several dismayed people shouted out.

"Is it true it's cancelled?" a woman asked a reporter.

It was true. A faulty fuel sensor aboard Discovery forced NASA to scrub its first attempt to launch a space shuttle since the Columbia disaster in 2003. (Full story)

The Rios family was picnicking near the river and couldn't believe they wouldn't be seeing a liftoff today.

"Oh my God! You're kidding right? It's not going?" said Evette Rios, who had brought her children to see their first shuttle launch. "Oh I can't believe it! And they can't fix it?"

NASA engineers were investigating how to repair or replace the faulty sensor late Wednesday and mission managers predicted a launch wouldn't happen before Saturday.

NASA said it will take time to learn what caused the problem and find a way to correct it.

Upon hearing the launch would be delayed, Alan Luney of Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, let out a sigh.

"We're utterly disappointed," he said as he rounded up his kids and packed up the minivan. "I don't know what we're going to do -- maybe head back [here] tomorrow if it's possible ... we may bring a fishing pole down here tomorrow and give it another go."

The Columbia accident was not far from Luney's mind.

"The most important thing, isn't it, is the safety of the crew," Luney said. "But still you'd like to see it happen. ... It's understandable, I mean, we all understand the reasons why. It's not done just to annoy people. It's done for the safety of the crew, that's the most important thing."

Edward Rios agreed.

"It's better to be safe than sorry," he said. "If we can't make it today, it's better they make it some other day so [we can] see them go up safe and sound and make it a perfect mission."

As cars jammed the one-lane exit, some lingered. Some kept the party going, drinking and eating under their waterside tents. Still others made preparations to return whenever the launch happens.

"I am really bummed, but at least for their safety they caught it before anything bad could happen," said Lacey Nielsen of Alta, Iowa. "[I have to work tomorrow] but I am going to try as hard as I can, it might be one of my first sick days from work but I want to see it go off real bad, so I'll do pretty much whatever I can to get down here."

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