Just before 11: 00 a.m. EST on 28 November 1983, the joint NASA/ESA STS-9/ Spacelab 1 mission was boosted into orbit. It had been a problem-free countdown, although some two months later than the previously planned launch date of 30 September due to possibly faulty material in a booster thrust chamber nozzle recovered after the preceding STS-8 flight. These concerns were only raised after Columbia had already been moved out to the launch pad. NASA engineers believed that the excessive erosion of the SRB nozzle throat, causing a near burn-though, might have been related to a batch of ablative carbon fibre-cloth resin used to line the throat of the nozzle that had not been properly cured. Unless remedied, this could have led to a launch catastrophe. The orbiter was returned to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on 17 October for de-stacking, and for replacement work to be carried out using less sensitive nozzle-lining material from another manufacturer. The delay was further compounded by difficulties with a new communication network. Shuttle Columbia was on its last mission prior to a stand-down period for extensive modification. At the time of its lift-off from launch pad 39A, with the European-built Spacelab 1 secured in the payload bay, it was the heaviest Shuttle stack ever launched into space.

It would be the first and only time a scientist-astronaut from each of Groups 4 and 6 would fly into space together. Owen Garriott (MS 1) and space "rookie" Bob Parker (MS 2), along with payload specialists Byron Lichtenberg and Ulf Merbold, were ready to carry out a comprehensive work programme inside the billion-dollar orbital laboratory.

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