Reporter's Notebook: A Thrilling View From Johnson Space Center

As General Zod of "Superman II" might say, "So this is Planet Houston?"

I am here at the Johnson Space Center covering the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Shuttle launches have become a bit like Ramadan; it seems like they last for nearly a month.

Discovery was supposed to launch on Saturday, but weather got in the way. Then it was supposed to launch on Sunday, but weather got in the way. Then on Monday, pieces started falling off on the launch pad, which somehow did not get in the way.

Today, it launched, however, and as one NASA employee told me, "At least it is in the air."

Of course, that is not the big issue. The big issue is, did anything happen to Discovery as it was getting into the air? Over the next few days, more photos will be taken of the shuttle than of Brad and Angelina.

NASA had 121 cameras on the ground, in the air, and in space looking at every inch of the shuttle to see whether there were any dings or damage from foam that might have broken away during liftoff.

From the naked eye, it looked like there might have been some debris. The question: Were our eyes deceiving us? If there was debris, how big was it? No matter what the size, did it hit the shuttle orbiter?

NASA needs to prove it can fly this thing with as little risk as possible, and it could take up to a week before we know whether Discovery gets a clean bill of health.

I can tell you that here at JSC -- that is space-geek talk for the Johnson Space Center -- everyone is waiting, anxiously, for that moment. Nothing less than the future of the space program depends on it.

This is my second trip to Houston for a shuttle mission.

The Johnson Space Center is where NASA actually runs the whole program, and once the shuttle clears the launch pad, this is were all the news comes from.

It is a hugely interesting assignment, because for the most part astronauts are every bit as cool as you think they are, and all the engineers are really as smart as rocket scientists.

They are, after all, rocket scientists. Plus, ABC News has a trailer here so it feels like a family camping trip.

Most importantly, Houston figures prominently in "Superman II." General Zod mistakenly thinks Earth is actually named Houston, uttering the famous words, "So this is Planet Houston?"

In the four days that I have been here, I have said, "So this is Planet Houston" about 75 times. I am still waiting for someone to laugh once.

If you would like to learn more about Superman, and my Atari, here is a very worthwhile link: http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=2140130

This is the first time many of you have heard from me since I last wrote from Iraq.

I haven't changed much. … And neither has Iraq. The good news is that I finished the 1,000-page biography of Thomas Jefferson. I don't want to give too much away. … But he dies at the end.

The bad news is that I am now reading a 675-page book on James Madison. It turns out that Madison was a little bit of a perv -- at least by modern definitions. When he was about 30 years old, he became smitten with a 15-year-old girl.

They were ultimately engaged, until she broke it off because she fell for a doctor. Her mother was so proud.

On that note, Happy Fourth of July!

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