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Behind The Scenes At NASA: Voice of the Countdown

7:50 AM, Jul 6, 2011   |    comments
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Video: Behind the Scenes at NASA

George Diller standing by the countdown clock

MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. -- George Diller is just as much a part of the shuttle program as the countdown clock.  In fact, neither would be quite as good at their job without the other.

"The clock has done all the Apollo launches, all the shuttle launches and the truth is that it will stay for the future," he said.

But unlike the clock, you won't recognize his face, but you've heard his voice if you've ever watched a launch on TV before.

"My first launch commentary was for Atlantis, STS-27, my last, STS-135, is going to be Atlantis on Friday."

His first, STS-27 (Shuttle Transportation System-27) was the shuttle launch number 27. It was in 1988.

Now, 108 launches later, he'll finish with the same shuttle he started with.

To put it simply, he's the guy that counts down the launch and says "lift off." It's his job to make sure the viewing public has some understanding of what they're seeing on TV and explain if something goes wrong.

"We're trying to explain what happened and as soon as we can explain why," Diller said.

He started with NASA in 1978, after covering the space program as a reporter for a Tampa area radio station.

"I fell in love with it.  It's nice not to have to work for a living," he joked.

But he said there's little room for joking on launch day, it's all business.

"There's a little apprehension.  There's a lot of concentration. You don't have time to be nervous about it because you're so focused on the last 31 seconds. That's where rubber meets the road. You're either gonna launch or you're not."

One task Diller will have to complete between now and launch is what he calls his "lift-off line."

"Everyone wants to know what my lift-off line is," he said. "I've got part of it, not the end of it."

For example, when Endeavour took off for the last time, right after it cleared the tower Diller broadcast: "Lift off for the final launch of Endeavour, expanding our knowledge, expanding our lives in space."

He said he doesn't usually sit around to write them.

"Nah, they're usually thoughts while shaving, while taking a shower, something like that."

The final launch of the space shuttle will be Diller's final commentary of a manned space vehicle. But he said he's not out of work. He's the voice man for four unmanned rocket launches coming up before the end of the year.

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