Spacelab Only Modifications To Columbia

The longer-than-usual time needed to prepare Columbia reflects the mission's complexity. Originally scheduled for launch on the last day of September 1983, it eventually set off eight weeks later and would prove to be a magnificent success. In addition to the normal processing flow in the OPF, a series of so-called 'Spacelab Only' modifications were effected. These included adding extra seats for the large crew, fitting an onboard fax machine, improving the Shuttle's brakes and tyres, installing structural and electrical provisions for Spacelab-1, strengthening the payload bay floor and placing phonebox-sized sleep stations for the astronauts into the middeck.

Admittedly, not all of the improvements were in support of Spacelab-1, but the focus of the work was upon this particular mission. Columbia spent the first three months after STS-5 in OPF Bay 1, where her propellants were drained and her OMS and RCS units removed for repairs. Some of the early Spacelab Only modifications also got underway during this time, and on 27 February 1983 the vehicle was transferred to OPF Bay 2 to complete the improvements. To support the planned nine-day mission, three 'substack' fuel cells, using five (rather than three) cryogenic tank sets were installed.

Preparations for STS-9 took place in a range of locations, not just Florida. A new set of upgraded main engines were assigned to the mission and they completed their certification testing at the National Space Technology Laboratory's facility at Bay St Louis in Missouri in the early summer of 1983. They were capable of achieving a thrust of 104%, significantly higher than had been possible using the original specification models. After test firings and leak checks, the new engines arrived at KSC and had all been installed on Columbia by 20 July.

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