The primary goal of the mission was the solar observations and every ninety-minute orbit gave the crew about fifty-five minutes in sunlight and thirty-five minutes in shadow. Before sunrise, Henize had to get the IPS ready and in the correct position to find the sun (and other stars as required) to allow the system to lock on and gain an
optical hold on the solar disc. This took anywhere between five and ten minutes, but having only one target to track (the sun) made life a little easier, particularly as there were other tasks to set up or perform prior to each data run. Intermittently, he operated one of the experiments (No. 9, the British Coronal Helium Abundance Spacelab Experiment - CHASE) and he also had about five minutes on each daylight pass to take the opportunity to look out of the window at the Earth. On night passes, he was busier than during the daylight pass. For thirty-five minutes, he reported to MCC-Houston about how the previous pass had gone and received instructions for the next daylight pass. Because of this, Henize, a well-respected astronomer who had waited years to fly into space, did not have the opportunity to look out of the window at the stellar field in detail during the night passes, nor to look closely at the night side of Earth and its illuminated cities, much to his regret. He did at least manage to record an audio diary of his activities and experiences on orbit.
His diary mentioned a couple of especially interesting sites while flying over China and, "as a closet geographer with an interest in maps,'' he was particularly interested in this area - still relatively unknown even in the mid-1980s. Henize thought the Tibetan plateau was beautiful, spotted with moderate sized lakes everywhere. This surprised him, as did the variance of colours. He took personal credit for having discovered one large oval basin in the Western province of China that reminded him of the oval shape of great red spot of Jupiter, covered as it was by a reddish desert and clearly visible from orbit. Photographs of Henize looking out of the window from Challenger clearly show the delight on his face at viewing the Earth and stars from this vantage point.
The Instrument Pointing System (IPS) gave the crew a few headaches for the first half of the mission. When asked some six years after flying his only mission, Henize concluded that if a re-flight of Spacelab 2 had been possible, then flying a mission without equipment failures would have been a significant improvement. Other than that, he felt the mission had gone pretty much as designed, so any re-flight would not have required significant changes.
Was this article helpful?