Globe Trotting - Stories From Around the World

A blog series of stories from our team

Behind the scenes with Bill at Space Shuttle launches

By Bill Wood, Founder

I got a call from the head of the Press Center at the NASA JFK shuttle mission site in Florida. I was referred by a couple of Japanese interpreters who knew me. I provided the simultaneous interpretation for the press conferences at the launch and landing of two Italian shuttle missions and two missions on which there was at least one Japanese astronaut. I rented a truck for my equipment and had my shipping contractor deliver it to me at the NASA entrance gate, where I loaded it on my rented truck. I got my pre-arranged credentials at the gate office and they made me a member of the mission ground crew with a badge permitting me to go anywhere on the site. In the employee cafeteria, I sat next to the five members of the liquid hydrogen fuel team. One spark and it’s all over. On the second Italian mission, there was a delay at T (launch time) minus 6 minutes. An Italian naval helicopter landed on the grass in front of the VIP stands where I was sitting. As the team was exiting the helicopter, they recognized me and motioned for me to come down. They had requested that I set up a room for simultaneous interpretation for a press conference at their Cocoa Beach hotel one hour after launch. I had told them they could not get to Cocoa Beach within one hour because the highway, which normally takes 45 minutes, would be a parking lot with everybody on camp chairs with beer coolers. The Italian team lamented that I had been right and asked where they could have their press conference. I knew that they could use the press center conference room, so I had set up a room in a nearby building. The launch proceeded.

On another mission, a young Japanese astronaut nervously prepared for her first launch. All of Japan was anxious, watching on an NHK live feed from our press center. After the landing, the press and the other astronauts were waiting in the closed room in the press center. I waited alone at the glass door to the foyer. I watched the Japanese astronaut get out of her limo and walk up the 30-yard path to the press center. I opened the glass door. I spoke to her in Japanese, welcoming her and offering my arm, which she gladly took. At the closed door to the conference room, I said paused and asked her in Japanese if she needed anything before proceeding. She put her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes. After 3 minutes, I asked her if she was ready. She was. I opened the door and she confidently approached the stage. Perfect! I was so grateful to be there for her to make the mission and the press conference a success.