Spacelab1 A Freeforall Mission

For Spacelab-1 - the first 'dedicated' flight - a long module and single pallet would be flown together in the payload bay. However, this mission did not require an igloo because all of the subsystems needed to run the pallet-mounted experiments were housed inside the pressurised module. Also, the payload was not dedicated to one scientific discipline, but was a 'free-for-all' covering virtually all possible areas of research for which the system had been designed. The module and pallet would play host to more than 70 life sciences, technology, astronomy, solar physics, Earth-observation, plasma physics and materials science investigations.

It was in anticipation of this ambitious make-or-break mission to demonstrate the new space laboratory's capabilities that Columbia returned to KSC a few weeks before Christmas 1982. Spacelab-1 would be the most ambitious flight in her career so far. Scheduled to run for nine days - easily surpassing the previous record set by STS-3 astronauts Jack Lousma and Gordon Fullerton - the mission, designated STS-9, would also carry a crew of six; the largest yet flown into orbit on a single spacecraft. Of this close-knit team of astronauts, two in particular stood out.

One was a 42-year-old West German solid-state physicist named Ulf Merbold. He had been chosen as one of the first two 'Payload Specialists' to fly on the Shuttle and was the first European representative to accompany Spacelab into orbit under the contract signed a decade earlier. Payload Specialists, unlike Mission Specialists, were 'career' scientists who were chosen by their respective government, agency or - in some cases - from within private industry or elsewhere to operate a specific experiment. ''They know more about the science and what's going than we do,'' said Merbold's colleague on STS-9, Mission Specialist and astrophysicist Bob Parker. ''We're generalists. I'm an interstellar matter supernova remnant man. We don't do too much of that stuff on the Shuttle.''

Merbold would be joined on the flight by a second Payload Specialist from the United States, a bioengineer named Byron Lichtenberg. Together with Parker and Mission Specialist Owen Garriott - an electrical engineer who had previously flown on board Skylab in 1973 - this quartet of astronauts would work in two 12-hour shifts to run the myriad of experiments on Spacelab-1. Meanwhile, Commander John Young and Pilot Brewster Shaw would monitor and run Columbia's systems from the flight deck.

The assignment of Young, the first person to fly into space for a sixth time, to command the mission epitomised perfectly its importance to both NASA and ESA. During STS-9, he would be a member of the Red Team with Parker and Merbold, while rookie astronaut Shaw joined the Blue Team with Garriott and Lichtenberg. It was intended that this practice of running Spacelab missions around-the-clock, with a pilot managing the Shuttle, and Mission and Payload Specialists operating the experiments, would prove useful as NASA strove towards its ultimate goal for the 1990s: developing and operating a long-term space station.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment