Taking the last chance to fly

When Tony England returned to NASA, he did not really fit into either the new Shuttle mission specialist selections, nor with the older groups. He considered himself to be "always kind of an odd ball,'' and back at NASA, this feeling continued. He decided to get his flight and then return to work in science somewhere, though he had not intended to stay at NASA nine years to achieve this goal. His assignment to 51-F was to a flight that was complicated, but one which he thoroughly enjoyed. He also enjoyed working with this crew, but not the delays that pushed the flight back to 1985.

Both England and Musgrave were hoping for an EVA on the mission, as they were the contingency EVA crew. But they did not get the chance to go outside. If they had, they would have needed to move a considerable amount of trash bags out of the airlock into the mid-deck to allow them access into open space.

In the first few days, with several failures of the IPS and other systems and hardware, plus the recovery from the Abort-to-Orbit through a difficult programme

The 51-F crew are wearing sunglasses in a humorous crew photo aboard Challenger. Commander Fullerton's head is at centre with England next to him. Around them are, from bottom right clockwise: Bartoe, Musgrave, Bridges, Henize and Acton.

of planned manoeuvres, there was potential for friction between the crew members. But England was impressed that not once did he encounter or hear of any argument about finding space to work in the crowded flight deck (though Henize jokingly said he had to fight through arms and legs in order to get a good view out of the window). According to Tony England, "Karl recognised that this was probably going to be his only flight and he wanted to take as many opportunities as he could to look out of the window. Loren Acton felt the same way.'' England and Bartoe were as busy on their shift as the others, but had less opportunities to look outside until several days into the mission, when the computers controlling the payload bay overheated and were temporarily shut down. With nothing to do, England grabbed a camera and secured a bag around one of the overhead windows, spending two orbits (about three hours) with his head inside the bag to observe and photograph the Earth. After that, England looked for other opportunities to look outside, just like his colleagues. In hindsight, England felt he would have set aside more time to look out the window, if given the chance to fly the mission again.

STS 51-F was the first opportunity for former scientist-astronauts (now mission specialists and payload specialists - scientists with a part-time astronaut role) to work together on the flight deck rather than the more spacious Spacelab science modules used on Spacelab 1 and Spacelab 3. Crew orchestration of time and roles had to be more precise due to the limited volume, in an area used to both fly the vehicle and

Musgrave draws blood from England during one of the flight's secondary experiments.

operate the experiments. During the assigned shifts, either Fullerton, Bridges or Musgrave occupied the "piloting role'' in the front flight deck seats, while the payload and mission specialists occupied the whole of the aft flight deck. Musgrave assisted in manoeuvring the spacecraft as required, allowing the science team to gather the data. On this flight, Musgrave acted more as a pilot-astronaut than a mission specialist, or indeed scientist-astronaut. Close cooperation with pilots Fullerton and Bridges was necessary to fulfil the mission objectives, even before the added complication of recovery from the ATO situation and systems difficulties. Either England or Henize would manage the IPS, cooling and power supplies, allowing the payload specialists to work with their specific experiment. However, if the need arose, both Henize and England would assist the PS in gathering data.

Though each shift was technically twelve hours, there was a hand-over period which included briefings and updates, usually on anomalies. These were reflected in new flight plan updates teleprintered up to the crew each day, further amending the crew activity plans that had been devised during training. This essentially required the outgoing crew to provide a "heads-up" to the incoming shift on any such changes. Working twelve-hour shifts could be tiring, but Henize recalled being in a lot better shape on orbit than after twelve hours working shifts on the ground. Unlike others who found working in space caused extra stress, Henize found the pure joy of working in microgravity relaxing.

During their preparation for the mission, the crew thought it would be a good idea to take some humorous video footage of activities on board the vehicle. Some ideas

Musgrave photographs a plant growth experiment - one of the secondary experiments on Spacelab 2.

they devised did not work in real time, but others have become vintage footage of "Fun in Space" videos. These staged shorts included Fullerton and Musgrave (both bald) arguing over a hair brush, a scene dubbed "Hair Wars" by the crew; the crew showing the effects of sleeping unrestrained in the mid-deck when the Orbital Manoeuvring Engines were fired; and demonstrating the pages of updates the crew received each day via the teleprinter. Part of an "official experiment" involved taste-testing carbonated drinks from two leading drink suppliers, using specially designed dispensing devices on top of the cans. Henize and England were the "test subjects" and neither was really enthused by the event. "Gas in the stomach is something you really don't want in space," England recalled. Henize simply disliked the taste.

For the landing, England swapped seat positions with Henize to return on the flight deck. From his three years of experience in the simulators at Rockwell just after returning to NASA, he was well aware of each stage of entry and landing and of what Fullerton, Bridges and Musgrave were doing, so he did not have to spend much time worrying about it. Instead, he carried an 18-kg movie camera around to record cabin views during entry and descent. As soon as the crew began to feel the pull of gravity once again, England quickly discovered just how much heavier an 18-kg camera felt after eight days in microgravity. The de-orbit burn was initiated in the dark over South Africa, emerging into "daylight" over Australia. During this phase, the plasma sheath glowed over the flight deck windows. For England, this was a pretty and memorable sight.

Henize tried a Pepsi drink while England samples a Coca-Cola, in an evaluation of carbonated beverages during STS 51-F. Both drinks were deemed unsatisfactory in taste and possible consequences.

For any Shuttle landing, official explanations for the post-flight activities indicating that the crew are ''performing tests and shutting down the systems'' are not totally accurate. England recalled the time taken by the medical staff helping him walk back and forth across the mid-deck floor to build up tolerance for 1 G, so that when the crew walked down the steps, they did not stumble and fall on national TV. Later missions changed this policy, so that returning crews - especially those on longer missions or returning residents from Mir or ISS - would enter a transfer van directly from the side hatch of the orbiter while on the runway and would be taken to crew quarters instead of walking down a set of steps. England readapted very well, but once back on the ground the strongest emotion he recalled was one of sadness. It was so evident that one of the medics even asked him if there was anything wrong, as he was physically fine. England replied, ''After all these years [of waiting to fly in space], it's sad to have it over.''55

After the crew returned to Houston, they met most of the principal investigators, who talked enthusiastically ''for several hours'' about the success of a mission that could have been terminated before entering orbit, or shortly thereafter. England also felt that the mission of STS 51-F went too quickly. Towards the end of the flight, the crew were obtaining useful data on some of the instruments, although others never worked at all, and they were eager to extend the mission or re-fly the instruments to allow their full potential to be explored.

The STS 51-F flight crew report noted, ''This was a mission of challenge, both in the pre-mission development and during the flight itself. The crew is proud to have been part of a great team that was able to meet the challenge to produce a very significant scientific success.'' After a long wait, a launch abort and ATO events, to have finally achieved such success from the mission gave the whole crew a great sense of pride and achievement.

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