Success From Failure

Nevertheless, in light of its multitude of problems, the mission proved a fantastic success, achieving far more than expected after so many failures. ''We just had a wonderful mission,'' said Art Davidsen at the last ASTRO-1 ultraviolet science gathering on 10 December. ''We've spent 13 years getting ready for this opportunity. There were many times when we feared it would never come to pass, and other times when we thought it wouldn't work, but it actually worked spectacularly well.''

To illustrate how successful the mission had been, Gull asked Davidsen what the final results were in a 'match' between 'The Huntsville ASTROs' and 'The Universal Secrets'. Davidsen replied, with a grin, that ''the ASTROs won by a mile!''

Although the focus of STS-35 had been the observatory in Columbia's payload bay, the crew participated in several other activities. One of the most noteworthy was the 'Space Classroom', which gave Hoffman the dubious honour of becoming the first person to wear a tie in orbit. ''All the male teachers wore ties,'' he told Mission Control. ''I know nobody has ever worn a tie in space, so I thought I'd give it a try and see what it looks like.'' Then, with the tie secured by a piece of Velcro, he introduced the first school lesson ever transmitted from space.

It was part of a project entitled 'Assignment: The Stars', intended to spark students' enthusiasm for science, maths and engineering. On 7 December, the four astronomers gathered on Columbia's flight deck and, speaking over a two-way televised link with school pupils in Huntsville, Alabama, and Greenbelt, Maryland, told them all about the electromagnetic spectrum and its central role in ASTRO-1's mission. At one stage, Durrance played two taped versions of the same musical theme: the first, he explained, was unrecognisable because the high and low notes had been removed. The second, however, proved to be the theme from 'Star Wars'.

''You need to hear all the notes'', Durrance told the pupils, ''to appreciate the sound.'' Then, waxing lyrical somewhat, he told them that, in a similar way, ''the heavens are playing a symphony of light''. Hoffman turned the children's attention to ASTRO-1 itself and revealed how, operating high above Earth's hazy atmosphere, its sensitive telescopes could reveal more about the Universe than ever before. Later, the children were given the opportunity to pose questions to Parise and Parker.

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