Birth Of Challenger

Musgrave and Peterson's moment of triumph would make them the first Americans to leave their spacecraft in orbit since February 1974 and give the world a glimpse of the new Shuttle suit in action. Today, it has become increasingly familiar as missions have routinely serviced the Hubble Space Telescope and begun constructing the International Space Station. Yet, originally, in the early developmental days of the Shuttle, an Extravehicular Activity (EVA) capability was considered unnecessary and...

Mbb

On June 13th 1983, with less than a week to go before the STS-7 launch and poised on Pad 39A, Challenger's payload bay is fully laden for her second mission. Clearly visible are SPAS-1 and the open sunshiclds of Palapa-Bl and Anik-C2. Both it and the Indonesian satellite, Palapa-Bl, which sat behind it in Challenger's payload bay, close to the aft bulkhead, were of the Hughes 'HS-376' bus type. These cylindrical, spin-stabilised drums measured 2.8 m tall and 2.1m wide when stowed, but increased...

Hydrogen Leaks

Following Challenger's rollout to the launch pad on the final day of November 1982, several milestones had still to be overcome before final preparations for STS-6 could commence. One of the most critical exercises was a Wet Countdown Demonstration Test (WCDT), which was scheduled to culminate on December 18th in a 20-second firing of her three main engines. This so-called Flight Readiness Firing (FRF) was necessary to demonstrate the engines' ability to throttle between 94 per cent and 100 per...

Missed Warnings

Three months after the worrisome STS-51C boosters had drawn Boisjoly's attention, Bob Overmyer's crew lifted off on the seven-day Spacelab-3 mission. The results from their SRBs also indicated further erosion of the secondary O-ring, clearly pointing to the failure of its primary counterpart. The problem was attributed to leak check procedures. So serious was the episode, however, that a launch constraint was placed on flight 5IF and on subsequent launches, read the Rogers report. These...

The Sun Kept On Rising

Other concerns raised by the Rogers Commission were the short periods separating individual missions, which provided insufficient opportunity for flight data from one voyage to be properly analysed before the next one set off. One particular example was a potentially serious problem with Columbia's brakes during STS-61C, which was launched only 16 days before STS-51L. The Flight Readiness Review for the latter occurred on January 15th 1986, whilst Columbia was still in orbit, and the data from...

An Experimental Crew

Payload Specialist training was much shorter and less intense than that of the career astronauts. It's basically all the categories, except for maybe the big expense ones, said Charlie Walker, who flew three times as a Payload Specialist, more than anyone else. I didn't get emergency water training or survival training in the deserts or jungles, but I did go through all the systems both briefings as well as stand-alone simulator training. I knew what the electrical and environmental systems did...

Hazardous Hydrazine

NASA managers, though, had already postponed Leestma and Sullivan's three and a half hour spacewalk from October 9th to the 11th to enable the Earth resources instruments to acquire additional data. Moreover, they would attempt a repair job on the Ku-band antenna to enable it to be properly stowed for re-entry. In spite of the problems, the crew's attitude was good and Crippen's absence during early training had no detrimental impact. In fact, the agency declared that, as long as Commanders...

Funtime

Guy Bluford, the first black American spacefarer, laughed with excitement all the way into orbit on STS-8. It was around midnight, local time, at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, on the rainy evening of August 30th 1983 when he and his four crewmates - Commander Dick Truly, Pilot Dan Brandenstein and fellow Mission Specialists Dale Gardner and physician Bill Thornton - left the Operations and Checkout Building, bound for Pad 39A. Sitting out at the launch complex, resplendent in the...

The New Guys Deliver

By the time Paul Weitz' crew brought Challenger swooping into Edwards Air Force Base on April 9th 1983, the STS-7 launch date had slipped to no earlier than June 18th. Even as the new orbiter slowed to a halt, two-thirds of the components for her next mission were already in place on the other side of the United States. In High Bay Three of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the fully stacked Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) had been attached to their External Tank (ET) on March 2nd. When...

Space Cowboys

Publicly, Paul Weitz' STS-6 crew was nicknamed 'The F-Troop'. The nickname originated from a television series about an ageing cavalry unit and partly honoured their military backgrounds, as well as reflecting the fact that they were the sixth team of astronauts to fly the Space Shuttle. It was Weitz' idea and they even had 'official' F-Troop photographs and memorabilia produced. We had little T-shirts and pants, remembered Mission Specialist Don Peterson, and bought cowboy hats. I had a sword...

Human Satellites

Also in pride of place on Vance Brand's patch was a snazzy, jet propelled spacesuit backpack, known as the Manned Manoeuvring Unit (MMU), together with the surname of an astronaut who had waited longer than most for his first orbital voyage. Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless joined NASA in April 1966, along with Brand, but his patient wait for space had exceeded by more than a decade that of many of the Thirty Five New Guys (TFNGs). Even old timers like Bo Bobko, Don Peterson and Story...

Full Plate

Deck Flight Rogers Center

Had STS-51L been completed safely, the frequency with which Challenger herself flew into space in 1986 would have greatly eclipsed her three previous years of operations. With four more missions scheduled for May, July, September and December, she would have deployed the joint US European Ulysses probe to explore the Sun's polar regions, followed by a third Tracking and Data Relay Satellite to replace the doddery TDRS-1, retrieval of the Long Duration Exposure Facility, finally, and a...

Unequal Partnership

In spite of his desire to fly as often as possible, astronaut Mike Mullane considered himself fortunate to have been aboard none of Challenger's 1985 missions, for all three carried a fate worse than death a European-built research facility called Spacelab. For Mission Specialists, the A-list astronauts were those who flew the Manned Manoeuvring Unit, he recounted in his memoir, 'Riding Rockets'. At the bottom of the pile were those sorry souls doing actual science in the bowels of a Spacelab....

Earth Watching

When Crippen, McBride, Sullivan, Ride and Leestma were named to STS-41 G in mid-November 1983, this mission was scheduled to begin on the penultimate day of the following August. However, for a time, the identity of their orbiter was still in question. It was designated STS-17 at the time, said Leestma, and, when we first got assigned, it was on Columbia. We ended up flying on Challenger. NASA always told us when we got selected for a spaceflight, not to fall in love with our orbiter or our...

Going To Spain

The flight engineer on a Shuttle crew has arguably one of the most important jobs a Mission Specialist can possibly hold. Seated behind and between the Commander and Pilot during ascent and re-entry, he or she is responsible for helping to monitor the orbiter's instruments and offering a vital third set of eyeballs in the event of 'off-nominal' events. Typically, during dual-shift Spacelab missions, the flight engineer led one of the two 12-hour teams. He or she makes sure that all the...

The Golden Age Ends

That ride began at precisely 4 38 pm on January 28th 1986. Six and a half seconds before lift-off, Challenger's three main engines thundered to life and, as the countdown clock touched zero, the assembled spectators at KSC were greeted by the ear-splitting staccato crackle of her twin Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs). It proved to be the failure of both primary and secondary O-ring seals at the base of the right-hand booster, Rogers investigators would later conclude from photographic, physical and...

Lost Immovable And Burst In Space

Despite the success of the backpack on its first excursion, two embarrassing failures characterised STS-41B, together with another problem that impacted part of McCandless and Stewart's second spacewalk on February 9th. Nestled inside Challenger's payload bay were the Indonesian government's Palapa-B2 and Western Union's Westar-6 communications satellites, together with the West German-built Shuttle Pallet Satellite SPAS , which had previously flown aboard STS-7 in June 1983. During Brand's...

Preventable Tragedy

Six weeks later, on March 7th, the crew cabin was found by divers in less than 30 m of water, some 27 km north-east of KSC, and recovered by a team from the USS Preserver. It was disintegrated, with the heaviest fragmentation and crash damage on the left side, read the Rogers Commission's final report. The fractures examined were typical of overload breaks and appeared to be the result of high forces generated by impact with the surface of the water. Tellingly, US Navy spokeswoman Deborah...

Coming Of

Spectators at the Operations and Checkout Building beheld an unusual sight on October 30th 1985, as a crowd of blue-clad pilots, engineers and physicists from three nations headed for Pad 39A. Led by snowy-haired skipper Hank Hartsfield, astronauts Steve Nagel, Bonnie Dunbar, Jim Buchli, Ernst Messerschmid, Reinhard Furrer, Wubbo Ockels and STS-8 veteran Guy Bluford were set to make history as the world's first eight-member Shuttle crew. In view of the restricted volume aboard Challenger, it...

Suspended In A Gondola

As a result, by the time Challenger ascended from Pad 39A on October 30th 1985, a mere 136 days separated Nagel's two launches. This record would not be broken by another Shuttle crew until, in April 1997, a Columbia team were obliged to cut their Spacelab mission short after only a few days and their mission was reflown in July. Upon achieving a 320 km, 57-degree-inclination orbit, however, Nagel had little time to reflect upon his good fortune as leader of STS-61 A's blue team, he was in...

Repairing Solar

Despite the importance of LDEF, it was overshadowed by the repair of NASA's malfunctioning Solar Max satellite. In fact, virtually every Shuttle flight since November 1982 had helped lay the groundwork for the reusable spacecraft's most ambitious mission so far. Extensive tests had been undertaken to validate the Canadian-built mechanical arm, requiring it to manipulate larger and more bulky payloads, and three spacewalks had verified the performance of the suits, tools and MMUs, together with...

Fire On The

By the beginning of June 1984, the Shuttle seemed to be prospering. Eight more missions were scheduled before year's end, beginning with the maiden voyage of the orbiter Discovery. On that flight, designated 'STS-41D', Commander Hank Hartsfield would lead Pilot Mike Coats, Mission Specialists Mike Mullane, Steve Hawley and Judy Resnik and McDonnell Douglas Payload Specialist Charlie Walker to deploy two communications satellites and activate an experimental solar 'sail' in the payload bay....