Supporting The Shuttle

While Garriott and Parker were training for the first flight of Spacelab from 1978, the other scientist-astronauts (now designated senior mission specialists) at last began receiving assignments supporting the first flights of the Shuttle. A series of six (later amended to four) initial flights by OV-102 Columbia would be flown under the Orbital Flight Test Program, designed to qualify the Shuttle hardware, systems, procedures, infrastructure and support areas for full-scale operational activities. Other scientist-astronauts were also assigned to future Spacelab missions (following the development of the payload) while still awaiting official assignment to a flight crew.

In March 1977, former Skylab astronaut Ed Gibson returned to NASA as a senior scientist-astronaut (MS), accepting the role of Chief of Selection and Training for the new mission specialist group (Group 8), as well as assignment to support duties (Capcom) for the first manned Shuttle mission. Gibson was invited to return to NASA by JSC Director Chris Kraft to "help develop a space station," but after a year or so, it became apparent that the Administration and those on Capitol Hill would not yet support such commitment. This was a discouraging time in the Astronaut Office, particularly for Gibson.1

In late 1977, Karl Henize began work on the Spacelab 2 payload (mostly solar physics) with a view to flying the mission as a mission specialist.2

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