An April Fools Day Prank
Space Shuttle Landing
April 1, 1998
It was another workday and as I began the daily wresting match with the snooze bar I stopped. Still half awake listening to my former high school classmate, Phil, on WKRQ who announced the Space Shuttle was going to make an emergency landing in Cincinnati. After he provided a few details Tom Brokaw was on the air providing further news about the immediate need for a shuttle landing. Phil was a prankster back in school but now that Tom Brokaw was involved, one of America's news icons, I was suddenly wide-awake. Tom explained there was a problem with the shuttle that didn't provide enough time to wait for entry and landing at Kennedy, Edwards, or White Sands. After Tom detailed the troubles a message was transmitted from the Space Shuttle. Through the static and beeps the astronauts further explained their need to land in Cincinnati at 9:30 that morning.
It was almost 8 and this was something I didn't want to miss. I turned up the radio and headed for the shower. While I quickly threw on some clothes and put my hair in a ponytail I listened to the callers and their questions. "Why isn't the Shuttle going to land at the Greater Cincinnati International Airport?" I thought that was a good question. Phil said the Shuttle would be landing at Lunken Airport which seemed rather small. Lunken is an airport where traffic helicopters and Cessnas are parked but it was perfect because it didn't have a lot of traffic. Since there wasn't enough time to re-route the traffic at the Cincinnati airport this would have to do. Phil was at the airport surrounded by news anchormen and their cameras. At the end of the runway there were several firetrucks and ambulances waiting for the landing.
I was so excited to share this historic event with my friend and co-worker Jennifer. Luckily the office was only 3 miles away and most days I could catch all green lights on my way in to work. Naturally when you're in a hurry that is not the case. It was just before 9 and if it hadn't been for the security guard in the parking lot I would have ran to the building. I was only 22 and I didn't want the guard to think I was a weirdo excited for work that day. After I passed the security desk I pushed the elevator button and thought about the stairs as an alternative. If we weren't on the 7th floor I think I could have beaten what seemed to be the slowest elevator in the world. I made it! I ran to our office and burst through the door with my news of the Space Shuttle landing. She quickly called her husband and left a very excited voice mail message that she was off to see the landing.
It was just after 9 and we made it to my car as quickly as we could. The radio station was still tuned in and we listened as we kept looking out the car windows into the sky. While I went in to get Jennifer more news vans and on lookers had gathered around the airport. Fighting our way through city traffic and stoplights we were quickly running out of time. I suddenly remembered Alms Park. It was close to Lunken airport and had an overlook where we could see the entire airport. Just before 9:30 we kept our heads to the sky as we walked over to the overlook.
The airport was quiet. There weren't any firetrucks, ambulances, or news media. We didn't see a crowd of people waiting to watch the Shuttle Landing. Looking over the edge we knew we had been fooled but it lifted our spirits when a lady at the park asked if we were there to see the landing too.
When we returned to the office Jennifer's phone was flashing indicating she had voice mail. It was her husband Brian who was an engineer who had previously worked as an intern for NASA. It was too bad he didn't answer when she initially called him. He ended up leaving 3 very useful messages.
First Message: "Jennifer, the Space Shuttle is only allowed to land in California and Florida."
Second message, "Jennifer, the Space Shuttle needs 3 miles of runway in order to land."
Third message, "Jennifer, the Space Shuttle isn't even in space right now."
Space Shuttle Landing Facts
Researching Space Shuttle landings I learned that Kennedy Space Center in Florida was the preferred landing site since it is also the launch site. Edwards Air Force Base in California and White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico round out the top three. Depending on the level of an emergency there were 37 other places the Shuttle could land.1 Turkey, South Africa, Guam, and Sweden all made the list but Cincinnati did not.
The landing runway at Kennedy is 15,000 feet long with a 1,000 foot over hang at each end which totals just over 3 miles in length. The Shuttle didn't need 3 miles of runway in order to land but since it was gliding without power on re-entry the extra length allowed a greater margin of safety.2 Since the Shuttle was powerless there was only one opportunity to land the craft. The pilot couldn't power up and try the landing again.
Three runways make up Lunken Airport and the longest is 6101 feet. It is also only 150 feet wide, half the width of the Kennedy air strip. Although the Orbiter's wingspan is 78 feet the length of the runway is well below the 7,500 foot minimum required by NASA.3
Looking up the flight status for Columbia, Discovery, and Endeavour for April 1, 1998 none of the aircraft were in orbit.
Kennedy Space Center Landing Site
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