Problems and progress

Early in the flight, there would be several problems for the crew to contend with and resolve if they could. Electronic equipment failed, causing the loss of vital experiment data. A computer somehow forgot what day it was, resulting in an infrared sensor being pointed at the wrong targets. Then a timer on several experiments failed until the Red Team of Parker and Merbold managed to repair it with a pair of pliers and a

Parker (rear) and Garriott work in the long module of Spacelab 1. The scientist-astronauts had tried to fly two of their group on each Skylab mission but only one was assigned (including Garriott). Spacelab 1 offered the opportunity that Skylab did not, utilising the skills and availability of the combined science background and astronaut training to the best advantage.

Parker (rear) and Garriott work in the long module of Spacelab 1. The scientist-astronauts had tried to fly two of their group on each Skylab mission but only one was assigned (including Garriott). Spacelab 1 offered the opportunity that Skylab did not, utilising the skills and availability of the combined science background and astronaut training to the best advantage.

cheap screwdriver. There was also an unexplained power surge in a high-speed data recorder that blacked out television transmissions from space.

This flight was also notable in that the scientists on board could communicate directly through voice- and science-data downlink with their colleagues on the ground, rather than through an astronaut Capcom. Lichtenberg would later say he was extremely grateful for this timesaving and necessary innovation. "It was the first time we've ever had direct contact between scientists on board a spacecraft and scientists on the ground. Always in the past, all of the communications had gone through an astronaut on the ground. On Spacelab 1, the concept of having practicing scientists in direct voice and video contact with their peers on the ground was a major step forward.

"I think we were able to be a lot more productive in the fact that we could talk our scientific jargon amongst ourselves. It's a shorthand, if you will, in the same way that the pilot-astronauts up on the flight deck have their own form of shorthand communication going with the Capcoms.''

The Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), allowed the opportunity to broaden the operational experience it had acquired during Skylab, was given responsibility for

Spacelab payloads, while the Johnson Space Center was responsible for orbiter operations. A mission management team from Marshall worked out of an area known as the Payload Operations Control Center (POCC) located in JSC's Building 30, while at the same time orbiter operations were conducted at Johnson's Mission Control Center (MCC). The Huntsville Operations Support Center (HOSC) in Alabama supplied technical advice, operating much as it had during the Skylab programme.

The TDRS-1 tracking and relay satellite provided the essential downlink between the orbiter and POCC. However, there were communications problems because the TDRS satellite was faulty, proving incapable of relaying more than a fraction of its orbit-to-ground capacity. At one stage, Bob Parker got a little edgy with over-excited ground colleagues from POCC while trying to effect essential repairs with Ulf Merbold and get on with his own scheduled experiment activity. "You guys should recognise that there are two people up here trying to get all your stuff done,'' Parker finally snapped back. "I think you might be quiet until we get one or the other [experiment] done.'' Then, when further instructions began to come in, he cut them short with: "Just wait! Would you guys please tell us exactly what you want done when, and we'll forget about what else we're doing at the present time!'' Taken aback a little by the outbursts, Payload Operations subsequently eased up on their requests.33

Despite these problems and equipment breakdowns, the Blue and Red teams worked as a highly efficient and productive crew. By using some of the most sophisticated equipment ever flown into space, their work resulted in many unprecedented and useful results. The ultraviolet telescope, for instance, provided the best sightings ever of dying stars, while the Metric Camera mapped tiny details of the Earth's surface. Unfortunately, the Very Wide Field Camera performed poorly and would have to be re-flown.

In a little zero-G alchemy, a furnace that could be fired up to 3,800 degrees Fahrenheit managed to form an amalgam of aluminium and zinc, creating a strong, lightweight metal alloy impossible to produce in the presence of gravity. The French ALAE pallet experiment detected and successfully obtained the first-ever measurements of deuterium in the upper atmosphere. This not only helped scientists study weather patterns on Earth, but if large quantities of deuterium could be detected elsewhere in our universe, it would suggest that the targeted celestial body may once have held elements of water - an essential prerequisite for life.

On this flight Owen Garriott, who had been an amateur radio operator for many years, became the first astronaut to take a small, hand-held ham radio into space. In doing so, he began a trend that created an increasingly sophisticated amateur radio space programme with other interested astronauts and contacts on the ground, and an ongoing programme known as SAREX (Space Amateur Radio Experiment). "In my spare time only, I managed to hold up an antenna to the window and talk to amateurs on Earth. When in orbit over land, I could make a CQ, which is a general call, and hear the hundreds of hams on the ground who were trying to establish communications. I used a well-designed, hand-held antenna, known as a 'cavity antenna,' which could be Velcroed to the window. It was about twenty-four inches in diameter and looked somewhat like a large, square aluminium cake pan. The transceiver then connected to

Garriott operated the amateur radio equipment during the STS-9 mission.

the antenna.'' Garriott's communications with fellow ham radio enthusiasts on the ground were the first outside of "official" channels.34 He used a four-watt QRP (a ham expression for very low power) transceiver to contact fellow enthusiasts such as Senator Barry Goldwater and King Hussein of Jordan, and was able to log nearly seven hours of free operating time between 30 November and 8 December.35

While Garriott recalls that the science team were "a bit lethargic'' for the first few days, "our efficiency and productivity improved throughout the flight. This was also a major result of published Skylab reports. Everyone recovers from early symptoms of SAS (if they have any) and feels better as time progresses, while productivity improves as everyone learns how to operate efficiently in weightlessness.''

Towards the end of the mission, NASA spokesmen said they were pleased with the work carried out, and greatly impressed by the number of worthwhile results they were obtaining. Cryogenic fuel usage had been unexpectedly low, and the crew had been exceptionally careful with their electrical energy consumption, so it was decided to extend the science mission from nine to ten days.

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