Veil Of Secrecy

The military experiments had already drawn sufficient criticism to drop a reconnaissance camera from Columbia's flight and the dismal failure of the high-profile CIRRIS only added to the embarrassment. In fact, the overly secret nature of the mission was often laughable, especially to the crew. ''A funny thing happened on that flight,'' remembered Hartsfield. ''Because it was highly classified, on this one experiment they had a classified checklist [and] because we didn't have a secure communications link], we had the checklist divided up in sections that just had letter-names like Bravo Charlie, Tab Charlie, Tab Bravo, that they could call out. When we talked to Sunnyvale [the US Air Force's Satellite Control Facility in California], they said 'Do Tab Charlie' or something. That way it was unclassified. We had a locker that we kept all the classified material and it was padlocked. So once we got on orbit, there was nobody going to steal it [so] we unlocked it and did what we had to do. When we'd finished the last part of that thing, and I remember I finally got it all stowed, I told Ken, 'I got all the classified stuff put away. It's all locked up.' He said 'Great.' It wasn't 30 minutes and [Mission Control] said the military folks needed to talk to us. So the military guy came on and he says he wanted me to do Tab November. Ken said 'What's Tab November?' I said, 'I ain't got the foggiest idea. I'm going to have to get the checklist out to see.' So I got the padlock off and got the drawer and dug down and got the checklist and went to Tab November and it says: 'Put everything away and secure it!' Ken and I really laughed about it!''

More visible in the middeck was the CFES unit, built by McDonnell Douglas, which would fly several times on the Shuttle in the early 1980s, accompanied on three occasions by an engineer representing the company. A full-scale version of the EEVT machine from STS-3, the CFES could process considerable quantities of biological materials in continuous streams. It was already known from primitive electrophor-esis experiments dating back to the Apollo days that the absence of gravity could lead to the production of materials of greater purity than could be achieved on Earth.

It was hoped, for example, that scientists would be using CFES samples not only to develop advanced drugs in space, but to produce them at such a rate as to make them available on the world market. Some scientists speculated that by 1987 these could include beta cells to provide a single-injection cure for diabetes, high-purity Interferon, epidermal growth factor products for treating burns, hormonal products to stimulate bone growth and countless others. With the Shuttle still widely expected to achieve fortnightly launches, the world markets would soon be overflowing with drugs that could only be made in space.

At the time of STS-4, plans were afoot to fly CFES at least six times between 1982 and 1984 and, depending on their success rate, to expand operations using a pallet-mounted 'bridge' in the payload bay to support production from 1986 onwards. McDonnell Douglas engineer Charlie Walker flew three times with CFES - once in the summer of 1984 and twice in 1985 - and demonstrated its capabilities. The first pallet-mounted CFES, accompanied by another McDonnell Douglas engineer named Bob Wood, was scheduled for July 1986. When Challenger exploded in January of that year, however, all those plans were shelved.

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