Returntoflight And A Return To Space

On 29 September 1988, the Shuttle programme finally returned to space, some twenty months after the loss of Challenger. STS-26 would deploy the third Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-C) and the five-person Discovery crew would complete a range of mid-deck and payload bay experiments. The mission lasted just over four days and successfully qualified the changes made to the programme since the tragic short flight of STS 51-L. By this point, only three scientist-astronauts remained in active service; Story Musgrave, Bob Parker and Bill Thornton. Over the next decade, as the Shuttle programme changed and moved towards supporting the construction of the space station, so the prospects of further flights diminished for the surviving members of the pioneering astronaut selections of the pre-Shuttle era. Indeed, in addition to the three former scientist-astronauts, only Vance Brand and Bruce McCandless from the 1966 Group 5 pilot selection remained in training for a future mission. All the other astronauts selected between 1959 and 1969 were either in management roles, had retired or were about to retire from NASA, or had passed away.

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