Thorntons return

According to Bill Thornton, one of the worst aspects of the first two days back in orbit was indiscriminate underseat stowage. On several occasions, Thornton had to ask for help from the ground, sometimes taking over an hour-and-a-half to locate items. "We had no control over where the underseat stowage was. They weren't properly listed.

The STS 51-B crew pose for photos after a successful 18 April 1985 Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test prior to launch eleven days later. Left to right: Commander Bob Overmyer, MS Don Lind, MS Thornton, MS Norman Thagard, Pilot Fred Gregory, PS Lodewijk van den Berg and PS Taylor Wang.

We had certainly never practiced with it and, unlike the initial intent which was to have a few key simple items stowed there, they were used indiscriminately for overflow stowage.''48 According to Thornton, the numbering of items in lockers was fine for accountants on the ground, but for operations in space there was still a bit of catching up to do to make activities on orbit easier and more efficient.

His experiences on STS-8 confirmed that pre-flight preparations and organisation were critical to keeping ahead in any space flight, and his problems on STS 51-B served to underline the importance of this still further. On Spacelab 3, the crew was under a heavy work schedule from the time they entered orbit. This was not helped by having one crew member taken ill and technical issues delaying the opening of the airlock door in order to access the science lab, let alone the stowage problems. Thornton called that first day on his second mission ''the longest day ofmy life,'' and a mild case of SAS added to his woes. His problem this time was not in trying to get his own equipment and investigations up and running, but in helping to complete other crew member tasks.

After searching though all the stowage bags and finally locating the biological sampling devices in the last one, when he opened it, the collection devices flew in numerous different directions as they all floated out of the bag. After collecting them all up, Thornton was not in a good mood and trying to write on the very small slippery labels on each phial added to his frustration. This later drew comments from the researchers who could not read his writing, which did not surprise him. This was but one example of how not to prepare equipment for space flight. Thornton argued for months that everything should be properly assigned, with clear identification marks for stowage, proper training and clear operating instructions, and a logical timeline to the activities. An experiment that had worked well in the lab would not necessarily function in the same way on orbit.

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