The Next Steps
With each mission, the Space Transportation System continued to expand its operational functionality. The first four flights had demonstrated the system’s basic capabilities, and the next four had revealed its capabilities as a launch vehicle. After a brief change of pace on STS-9, during which the orbiter served as a space-based science laboratory, the shuttle resumed the expansion of its capabilities as a payload launch system.
Crew: Commander Vance Brand, Pilot Robert “Hoot” Gibson, Mission Specialists Bruce McCandless, Ron McNair, and Bob Stewart
Launched: 3 February 1984
Landed: 11 February 1984
Mission: Launch of two communication satellites, first flight of the Manned Maneuvering Unit
The first nine Space Shuttle missions received relatively straightforward designations. Each was given a number, and that number was the order in which they flew. But beginning with STS-10 (which was cancelled and later flew as STS-51C) and STS-13, the agency decided there were problems with naming missions this way.
Bob Crippen was commander of the mission that would have been STS-13. “My friend Jim Beggs, who was the administrator of NASA, had triskaidekapho – bia (fear of the number 13), and he said, ‘There’s not going to be [another disaster like] Apollo 13, or a Shuttle 13, so come up with a new numbering system.’”
Astronaut Rick Hauck had a similar recollection, though he remembered the decision also being partly inspired by a desire to avoid confusion down the road. “It’s my sense that there was someone that decided, ‘We are not going to fly a mission called STS-13.’ Thirteen-phobic. So at some point,
they said, ‘Okay, we’re going to rename these missions.’ And [it was] also because you’d plan a mission, you’d get everybody started on it, and then something would cause that mission to slip past another mission, so that, in itself, was causing confusion. ‘We’re going to fly STS-12 before we fly STS – 11.’ So it’s easier if you don’t number them sequentially.”
The new system combined the last number of the fiscal year in which the mission was scheduled plus either a 1 or a 2 for the launch location—1 for Kennedy Space Center and 2 for the planned launch facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base—plus a letter to designate the planned order. This meant that the tenth Space Shuttle mission became 41B: 4 for 1984, 1 because it was launching from Kennedy, and B because it would be the second mission that year.
Continuing the series of incremental firsts in the early shuttle program, 41B would mark the first use of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (mmu) “backpack” developed by the Martin Marietta Corporation. “It was supposed to be an early-day Buck Rogers flying belt, if you know what I mean, except it didn’t have the person zooming real fast,” recalled 41B commander Vance Brand. “It was a huge device on your back that was very well designed and redundant so that it was very safe, but it moved along at about one to two or three miles per hour. It used cold nitrogen gas coming out in spurts to thrust you around. The trick was not to let the eva crewmen get too far out such that orbital mechanics would take over and separate us. We didn’t want them lost in space. We didn’t want to come back and face their wives if we lost either one of them up there.”
When McCandless first began using the mmu, he encountered a couple of problems. First was a slight offset in his center of mass. For the mmu to work properly, the thrust had to be delivered based on the center of mass of the mmu, its wearer, and the spacesuit. As long as those were properly aligned, it would move properly. However, after McCandless found the mmu was not maneuvering quite the way he expected, it was discovered that in the microgravity environment a small offset, such as additional equipment being worn on one side that wasn’t factored in, could cause the mmu to move in unanticipated ways.
The other problem McCandless ran into was that the internal thermal control system for the spacesuit was configured assuming that the astronaut would be exerting effort that would cause him or her to generate heat. The idea was that an astronaut would be working up a sweat and the spacesuit
23. Bruce McCandless using the Manned Maneuvering Unit, or mmu, to fly freely in space. Courtesy nasa.
would keep him or her comfortably cool. However, in reality, McCandless found himself cooled far past the point of comfort—it turned out that using the mmu required far less effort than moving from place to place on a regular spacewalk and it resulted in a cooler environment.
“At one point I was actually shivering and my teeth were chattering, and that tends to detract from your overall performance,” McCandless said. “If you look at the front of the mmu you’ll see a big knob and some markings on the beta cloth running from C to H, which I naively thought meant cold and hot. It turns out that hot just means minimal cooling, and it was set up for somebody who was physically active, that is, with a reasonable metabolic workload in a warm environment such as the payload bay, meaning something that was reflecting heat back and that nominally was maybe 0
[degrees] Fahrenheit but certainly not minus 190 like the effective temperature of deep space.”
Initially, when McCandless was maneuvering in the orbiter’s payload bay, he didn’t have problems. But once he got out away from the shuttle and wasn’t as physically active, he said, he got quite cold.
At the time the spacewalk rules precluded shutting off the cooling system, out of fears that, once it was turned off, it wouldn’t work if it were turned back on. However, McCandless got cold enough that something had to be done, so Mission Control gave him permission to turn off the cooling system and see what happened. “Well, predictably, after about ten to fifteen minutes it got warmer, pleasantly warm, and a little later it was getting hot so that Mission Control’s agreement was I turn it back on, and miracle of miracle[s], it just started right up. No trouble. Over the course of the spacewalk I turned it off and then back on maybe three or four times, and every time it stopped perfectly and then started back up perfectly.”
During the flight, McCandless became the subject of one of the more famous photographs in spaceflight history, showing him in the distance floating untethered above Earth. McCandless said that, decades later, having seen the picture countless times, it still connected him to the experience.
When I see it, I guess maybe a little bit of a tingle or goose bumps. It is extremely famous, and I think that perhaps one of the attributes of the photo that makes it so popular is that the sun visor is down so you can’t really see my face and it could be the face of anyone or the face of“mankind," whatever you want to call it. And in fact, at Space Center Houston—the tourist facility down there outside of jsc—and a couple of other places, they have a full-size blowup of that with the faceplate cut out so people, mostly kids, could climb up a stepladder behind it and put their faces through it and get photographed.
The photographer was 41B pilot Hoot Gibson. “It’s customary during a shuttle mission to swap off or change off duties depending on the mission phase,” McCandless recalled, “and this particular phase of the mission, Hoot’s job was to use the Hasselblad camera to document the eva. I think it goes without saying that he did a spectacular job both from the technical standpoint and from the quasi or artistic standpoint of composition and selection of scenes.”
Astronaut Jerry Ross was the CapCom for each of the mmu tests. “Those lucky guys,” Ross said. “I knew that Bruce had waited a long time and worked many, many years here in the office to get a chance to fly, and so I was happy for him and Bob Stewart when they got a chance to go outside and do their thing.” Ross, who later went on to complete nine evas in orbit himself, said it was fun to talk to the crew during the mmu demonstrations, but he couldn’t help but be a little jealous. “You can imagine how envious I was getting, sitting there on the ground and watching all those guys go out there and have fun.” In addition to the test of the mmu, another of the mission objectives was to test out for the first time the shuttle computers’ rendezvous software. The shuttle’s first rendezvous target was a Mylar balloon, launched out of the shuttle’s payload bay and away from the shuttle by a spring, said Brand. “When it got out a little ways, it timed out and it filled with gas. We were watching it go away from the spacecraft, and all of a sudden it exploded. Not that it was any danger to us, because it was away from the ship, and after all, it was only a balloon. It wasn’t like a stick of dynamite. But when this balloon exploded, I said, ‘It blew up.’ And on the ground they were wondering, ‘Does that mean it exploded, or does that mean it filled with gas, ‘blew up’?’ Well, it exploded.” The crew salvaged the test by tracking the biggest balloon fragment with radar and continuing with the test. “It was fun to do those early things,” Brand said. “Many things that are done on the shuttle today as very routine things, back then had to be checked out. The rendezvous system was one of them.” While the equipment test portions of the mission were successful, Brand said the satellite deployments didn’t work out so well. The crew deployed two satellites that were similar to the ones successfully deployed on STS-5. The pa – lapa-b 2 was for Indonesia, and the westar-6 was for Western Union. Each of the satellites deployed flawlessly, and both were supposed to wait half an hour to get some distance from the shuttle before starting the solid rocket motor burn that would lift them into geosynchronous orbit, twenty-three thousand miles above Earth. The engines started the burns but after about twenty seconds unexpectedly stopped. According to nasa, the culprit was the failure of the Payload Assist Module-D (pam-d) rocket motors. With nothing they could do about it, the crew abandoned the satellites in orbit and returned home.
Crew: Commander Bob Crippen, Pilot Dick Scobee, Mission Specialists George “Pinky” Nelson, James “Ox” Van Hoften, and Terry Hart Orbiter: Challenger
Launched: 6 April 1984
Landed: 13 April 1984
Mission: Deployment of the Long Duration Exposure Facility, repair of the Solar Maximum satellite
Shortly after his return from STS-7, Bob Crippen was once again assigned to command Challenger, a post he believes he was given to take specific advantage of the experience he had gained on his last flight. “I think what they were trying to do was to build on the experience that I had from doing the proximity operations,” theorized Crippen. “The next, 41c, was going to do our first rendezvous. We had a satellite that was disabled that they needed repaired, so it was similar to what I’d done before, only an extension of it. So maybe that’s why I got picked to fly it.”
The mission of 41c was to deploy the Long Duration Exposure Facility and to capture the Solar Max satellite that had been launched on a Delta launch vehicle in 1980.
According to astronaut Terry Hart, who operated the robotic arm for 41c, the skills Crippen picked up during years of experience in the astronaut corps were obvious from the very beginning, including in some unusual ways. “It’s funny,” Hart recalled,
I remember the day we posed for our crew picture. You all put your blue suits on and you bring the helmets in or something, and we took maybe twenty pictures, trying to get us all to have the right expressions on our face or whatever. And then the tradition is, you bring them back to the Astronaut Office and then you ask the secretaries to pick which one is best.
So Crippen and Scobee and Pinky and Ox and I are sitting around, looking at all these pictures. In one of them, one of us would be winking or our smile would be crooked or something like that. Every one of us had maybe a 50 percent hit rate on the pictures, having the right expression on our face. And we looked at Crippen. . . . Every photograph had the same expression on Bob Crip – pen’s face. He had it down pat. He knew exactly how to smile.
The mission marked the first time a shuttle flew a direct ascent trajectory, meaning that instead of launching into a low initial orbit and then using the Orbital Maneuvering System to raise it to an altitude of about three hundred kilometers, the shuttle used the oms during ascent to achieve a high
initial apogee and then used it again to round out the orbit at that level.
From the very beginning of the mission, Hart had difficulty adapting to weightlessness. Not one to have ever had issues with motion sickness on Earth, the space sickness caught him by surprise. “I wasn’t weightless for more than three minutes and I knew I was in trouble,” he said. “I just felt awful, and I was throwing up, mostly just dry heaves, every thirty minutes or so for a day.”
Despite feeling so bad, Hart said that he made sure to get on camera once that first day, just so those on the ground would know that he really was there. “I could barely force myself to get out of the corner of the cabin and get up on camera. There were some things I had to do that first day, but they were minimal. I just had to unstow the arm, and I barely made it through that. I really was totally incapacitated for the first day, and I tried the usual drugs that they give you to help, but I had it so bad, nothing helped at all.”
That night, Hart was exhausted and fell asleep fast. But his sleep didn’t last for long. “I started dreaming, and I dreamt that I was falling, which I was. I was falling. But I had like a visceral reaction to a fear of falling all of a sudden. I remember I was in the blue sleeping bag and I remember reaching to grab something as I came awake, to stop my falling, and I did it with such force that I ripped the bag that I was sleeping in. It was that violent. And I grabbed on to something, and then I realized where I was.”
In Hart’s opinion, the repair of the Solar Max satellite was the highlight of the mission. The solar observatory satellite had been in orbit since 1980, observing and studying the sun during the peak of the eleven-year solar cycle. But within a few months of its deployment the satellite had started popping fuses, Hart said. “There was a thermal problem, and some of the fuses got too hot. They had derated the fuses and that had caused them to pop, and the fuses were powering the attitude-control electronics on the satellite. So as a result, the satellite was spinning and they couldn’t control it. It was pointed at the sun, but it was wobbling so that it was not of any use to the scientists.”
The mission was to capture, repair, and re-release the satellite. It was to be the first on-orbit spacecraft repair, and Crippen and his crew were just the ones for the job. They even called themselves the Ace Satellite Repair Company.
“The Ace thing had come along earlier, actually prior to the shuttle flying,” Crippen recalled. He and some friends in the corps helped the wife of a fallen pilot move, and the onetime gig turned into a regular service when other friends needed help moving. “We formed the Ace Moving Company, and our motto was, ‘We move single women anywhere and husbands out.’ It was mostly a social thing, but we started that and then sort of built on it. Prior to our flight—I believe it was STS-5—they also used the Ace Moving Company sign, because they were deploying satellites. So it was sort of an extension of those earlier days to call ourselves the Ace Satellite Repair, because that was our job to go up and repair the satellite.”
Although the satellite was built and launched before the shuttle started flying, scientists at Goddard Space Flight Center had the forethought to design Solar Max with future in-space repairs in mind. Attached to the satellite was a grapple fixture that would allow the rms to grab it.
The main challenge the crew faced in the task, according to Crippen, was that many of the rate gyros on board had been lost, so it was difficult to stabilize the satellite. The repair required astronauts to undo small electrical connectors, which were difficult to handle while wearing large eva gloves.
“The other aspect was this was going to be a flight using maneuvering units [mmu] ,” said Crippen. “That had been done once before without a real task, and this one we wanted to have Pinky [Nelson] go out and actually capture this satellite.”
Nelson recalled his excitement at learning that he had been selected for the duty:
I remember meeting with Crippen . . . in one of the little conference rooms over in Building 4, where he doled out the assignments. He assigned me the role of flying the mmu, which kind of made my year, because here was a mission with four military pilots on it, and Terry Hart and Ox van Hoften were both mission specialists, engineer types, but they had also both been fighter pilots, and Scobee had flown everything that had wings, and Crip, this was his third flight already on the shuttle. And they decided to let me fly the maneuvering unit. I never asked why. I didn’t want them to think about it.
In orbit the eva didn’t go completely smoothly. Nelson was to fly up to the satellite in the mmu and hook on to the satellite to stop it from moving. Then Challenger could move in closer and Terry Hart would grab it with the robotic arm. “We had also practiced, in case something went wrong with that, having
24. James van Hoften and George Nelson on a spacewalk to repair the Solar Max satellite.
Terry grab it while it was still rotating, which was a little bit of a challenge, but we had practiced it and thought we potentially could do that,” said Crippen.
“Turned out,” he continued, “when Pinky flew out about three hundred feet away from the orbiter, and he came up and did his task perfectly to grab this little fixture, it didn’t capture. He sort of bounced off. He tried again and bounced off. I think he hit it in all about three times. The satellite was rotating prior to this around its long axis, but then it started to tumble. So we backed Pinky off, and I was worried that we’d spent all this time training for this, and we were just about to lose it.”
In all the preparations, Crippen said, the crew hadn’t factored in a tumbling satellite, and they did their best to improvise in the unexpected situ
ation. They considered attempting to go ahead and grab it with the robot arm but were concerned the tumbling would cause the satellite to strike the arm and damage something. They tried having Nelson grab one of the solar arrays by hand to try to stabilize it, but that didn’t work either. “We flailed around in there for a while, using up lots of gas, and then finally the ground told us they thought maybe they could stabilize it again with a slow rotation, so they asked us to back away.”
Crippen said those evas were some of the more worrisome moments of his commanding career: the shuttle was moving to keep a safe distance from the tumbling satellite, while Nelson was floating freely, independently of either.
That’s where I got the headache. We knew that we had the digital autopilot set up [to keep a clear] area up above the payload bay. We weren’t going to impinge a jet on the satellite or anybody else that was in between there, so that really wasn’t that much of a problem. But anytime you’ve got somebody out there free-flying, you don’t want to lose them. So the first thing I wanted to do when we decided we couldn’t do it with the tumbling thing was to get Pinky back.
Truthfully, at that time I thought we’d lost it. I could see myself spending the next six months in Washington explaining why we didn’t grab that satellite. But the ground had a trick up their sleeve that we weren’t aware of, the folks at Goddard did, and they were able to stabilize the satellite.
The next day the orbiter came in for another rendezvous, and it was just like how they’d trained in the simulator, said Crippen. “We went up, and Terry did a neat job of grabbing hold of it, so we captured it. Our fuel had gotten pretty low. . . but we had it. So then Ox and Pinky went out and did their thing of repairing the satellite; worked like champs. They did a couple of evas, and sure enough, the first day when they came back in and took their gloves off, all the tips of their fingers were bloody from having to go in and do that fine work.”
Once the satellite was in their literal grasp, Nelson said, the repair itself was easy. “It was so much easier to work in space than it is on the ground,” Nelson said. “It was a piece of cake. It was so much fun riding on the end of the arm, and just being out there was tons of fun.”
Hart, who was operating the robotic arm, said it was an incredible moment for him and the crew when they finally successfully grappled the satellite.
It was euphoric. I mean, we really felt that the mission was at risk, which it was, and we were really on a mission that was demonstrating the flexibility and the usefulness of the shuttle to do things like repair. We were afraid that we were disappointing a lot of people—the scientists, of course, wanting to put the science satellite back into service, but all the people at NASA that were showing what the shuttle could do. In reality, we demonstrated even more just the flexibility of human spaceflight, that you can adapt to things that are unexpected, like this pin and the problems that it caused us. So it was a good opportunity to show even better what the shuttle could do.
The other mission objective was the release of the Long Duration Exposure Facility. A project for nasa’s Langley Research Center, the facility was a twelve-sided cylinder that hosted fifty-seven individual scientific experiments. Hart deployed it using the robotic arm. The satellite was so large that it was a very tight fit in the orbiter’s payload bay, raising concerns that in deployment it could strike the orbiter, damaging the satellite, or worse.
“The concern there was that I was going to get it stuck, then we couldn’t close the payload bay doors, and then we couldn’t come home, so we had to be careful,” said Hart.
It all went pretty well. First I had to lift it out straight, and then the arm did everything it was supposed to do. And then I think I put it back in again just to make sure it would go back in before I lifted it out one more time to deploy it. We left it out on the arm and did some slow maneuvers to verify all the dynamics and all the things that the engineers wanted to understand about lifting heavy objects out of the shuttle. And then we very carefully deployed it. It wasn’t detectable at all when I released it. I mean, it was just totally steady, and we very carefully backed away and got some great photographs of it as we backed away.
The 41c mission also carried an imax movie camera that was used to shoot footage for the movie The Dream Is Alive. Even though he liked that nasa had partnered with imax, Crippen said he worried a little about the size of the camera and he didn’t want its use to distract focus from the primary mission objectives. “It was a little bit difficult working some of those things out, but it was a great camera.”
In addition to obtaining all the footage imax requested of the crew, Hart surprised one of the creators of imax, Graham Ferguson, with a spe
cial, unplanned thirty-second spot. “We had six film canisters, and we had gone through all of them and we had gotten all the shots that they wanted us to get during the mission,” recalled Hart.
I figured I had at least thirty seconds left on the last roll. So I’m kind of, “What can I shoot?’ I just want to shoot some indoor thing. And we were in the night side, and Crippen said, “Well, the sun’s going to come up in about three minutes here.” So I quickly put the camera up and focused on the Earth’s horizon just as the sun was starting to break through the horizon. And just as it started to glow a little bit, I ran the last thirty seconds off, and you could see the Earth’s limb all illuminated and you could see how thin the atmosphere is from that perspective. And just then the sun blossomed on the horizon, and I ran out of film. So in The Dream Is Alive, which was the feature they put together from our mission and the two that followed us, there’s that sequence in there of the sunrise, where Walter Cronkite’s saying, “And here’s what an orbital sunrise looks like. ” So it never occurred to them or us, for some reason, to shoot that particular kind of thing, but when we were up there, we knew that was a dramatic event. So as soon as it was coming, we captured it, fortunately.
Several weeks after returning home from their mission, crew members watched their imax footage in a private screening. “The imax people were there and they were all smiles,” remembered Hart. “They said, ‘You’re not going to believe what you did there.’ And then they showed the raw footage to us, and it was so vivid in our minds, just being five or six weeks from the mission, that it was almost like being there again, because the imax fills your entire field of view with the sensation of being in space.”
Despite the agency’s best efforts to avoid the number thirteen, the mission didn’t escape it completely. Hart said that at the same time the crew designed its official 41c patch, it had also created an underground patch with a black cat and the number 13 on it.
We did our coffee mug with the headquarters-approved STS-41C patch on the front of the coffee cup, and on the back of the coffee cup we had the unapproved black cat with “STS-13” on it. . . . As it turned out, two of the missions in front of us, one mission was canceled, and one mission was delayed. So we ended up being the eleventh flight, as it turned out, anyways. But they also moved the date around. Since it was well before the launch, there was nothing forcing the date, but they just moved the date to get away from the Friday the thirteenth thing, because then it turned out we were going to go early. We were going to launch on the sixth of April and land on the twelfth, but we had a problem during our mission that delayed us one day. So we ended up landing on Friday the thirteenth. But we made it.
Crew: Commander Bob Crippen, Pilot Jon McBride, Mission Specialists Kathy Sullivan, Sally Ride, and David Leestma, Payload Specialists Marc Garneau (Canada) and Paul Scully-Power (Australia) Orbiter: Challenger Launched: 5 October 1984 Landed: 13 October 1984
Mission: Deployment of a satellite, testing of orbital refueling techniques
Just six months later, Bob Crippen once again served as commander, for 41G. The assignment was unusual; Abbey named Crippen as commander of his fourth spaceflight while he was still preparing for his third. Crippen was surprised to be given two overlapping assignments while there were so many others ready to fly, so he asked Abbey why it was being done that way. “He said he wanted to see how fast we could actually turn people around, so who am I to turn down a spaceflight? I said, ‘Sure, but, you know, I’m not going to get to spend as much time training with the crew, so I’d like to make sure I’ve got somebody there, especially for the ascent portion, that knows how I like to fly the missions.’”
Crippen requested Sally Ride be added to the crew for just that purpose. While Crippen was fulfilling his duties as commander of 41c, Ride and the crew started training for 41G. “I was the only one on the crew who had flown before; the rest were first-time flyers,” said Ride.
I was the one that had the experience, and I had also flown with Crip before, so I knew how he liked things done and I knew what his habits were. On launch and reentry I knew what he wanted to do, and what he wanted the pilot to do, and what he wanted the flight engineer to do. . . . Part of my job was to say, “This is the way Crip likes to handle this situation or this sort of problem, and this is how he would want us to work. " During the first couple of months, I tried to give the rest of the crew some indication of the way that Crip liked
to run a flight and run a crew. Then, thankfully, he launched and landed and came and joined us.
While Ride could play the role of commander in terms of planning training activities, she was still a mission specialist astronaut, not a pilot astronaut, meaning she wasn’t trained to front-seat the orbiter during simulations. Jon McBride would sit in his seat as pilot and other astronauts or trainers would fill in as guest commanders.
Originally the crew was scheduled to fly on Columbia, which was undergoing modifications after its return from the STS-9 science mission. Leestma was the crew’s liaison to follow the progress of the modifications. “It was progressing slowly, and there were a lot of tile modifications that had to be done to Columbia. There were a lot of upgrades to make it like the newer vehicles. They weren’t going as fast [as planned]. There’s always money problems. And so my reports coming back were probably a little bit more negative, only because Columbia’s not going make our flight time.”
NASA realized that Columbia wasn’t going to be ready in time, so they shuffled orbiters around and 41G was given Challenger and, with the new orbiter, a new payload, Shuttle Imaging Radar B, or sir-в. “That’s when it really got down to training and started getting really serious about it,” recalled Leestma. “It was nice to know that we had a payload and an orbiter that we were probably going to fly. At that time I think that Discovery and Challenger were just kind of flip-flopping all the way along, so it was pretty much a two-orbiter fleet at the time.”
Ride’s return to space received much less attention than her first flight, even though the crew included two female astronauts and a female NASA astronaut, Kathy Sullivan, conducted an eva for the first time. “It certainly didn’t have the media attention that STS-7 did,” commented Crippen.
Judy Resnik had also flown prior to that time, so we’d had a couple of women go fly. So I think the media is easily bored if it’s not something that’s brand-new. The new thing on this was there was going to be a woman do a spacewalk. What was unusual is, as soon as we named her to do it, the Russians put up a woman and had her do a spacewalk just so she could beat Kathy Sullivan, who was going to do ours. But, in recollection, I don’t recall having to deal with anything like what we had seen on sts-j or sts-1.
Leestma, who hadn’t experienced anything like those two historic flights for comparison, had a different perspective:
The media made obviously a very big deal about that. Sally, being the very first American woman to fly; Kathy, now, on this flight, is going to become the first American woman to do an eva. Two women at one time, how is this going to work? They played it down very well. Both of them were very, very good about it. It was just, “Hey, we’re just part of the crew." And Jon and I could easily just stand in the background and just be one of the crew. It actually took a lot of the spotlight off of us, which was fine. Since Crip wasn’t there most of the time, it was mostly Sally and Kathy being the spokespeople for the crew, which was perfectly okay. [Before launch], Jon McBride and I went offand sat inside and had a Coke and a candy bar and watched Sally, Kathy, and Crip all get interviewed all day long. And we were happy as clams about it; we thought this was great.
Author Henry S. F. Cooper Jr. wrote in Before Lift-Offthat 41G had “more anomalies, glitches, nits, and malfs [malfunctions] than almost any previous mission. It was reminiscent of a long film.” One of those was when a Soviet laser-testing station targeted Challenger with a low-power laser that temporarily blinded the crew and caused equipment not to function properly. The incident was alleged to be a “warning shot” in response to the United States’ planned Strategic Defense Initiative space-based missile shield and military use of the shuttle and was met by U. S. diplomatic protests.
Other problems, involving no international drama, were still challenges to resolve. Under normal circumstances, said robotic-arm-operator Ride, the Shuttle Imaging Radar (sir-в) would not have involved the robotic arm. sir-в was a radar antenna in the payload bay that was unfurled to make Earth observations. It was then folded and stored for the return to Earth. “Because it was a radar, and because it took up a lot of the payload bay, before Kathy and Dave could go out on their spacewalk, we had to fold it back up again,” said Ride.
But we had trouble folding it. We couldn’t get it to come down all the way to latch. So we had to use the robot arm in a way that it hadn’t been intended to be used. We set the arm down on top of one of the leaves of the antenna and pushed down on it, trying to push it down far enough that a latch could grab it and latch it down. If we hadn’t been able to do that, the spacewalk might have been cancelled. But it worked quite well. It was pretty easy to push the top piece of the antenna down just far enough to get it to latch. The problem was solved relatively quickly and to everyone’s satisfaction, especially Kathy and Dave’s. They were afraid they weren’t going to get to go out on their spacewalk.
Innovative use of the arm saved the day on another occasion during the mission, too. On the first day in orbit, the mission was to deploy the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite (erbs). erbs was designed to investigate how energy from the sun is absorbed and reradiated by Earth. It was to be deployed by the rms. Ride was to be the primary arm operator and Leestma trained as backup. “We trained a lot together, spent a lot of time in the simulators and going to Canada and doing those kind of things,” said Leestma. “It becomes a little bit of a contest of who can do this quicker or better. All those competitive games were played in everything you do.”
When it came time to deploy the satellite, Ride let Leestma pull out the arm, do the checkout, and grapple the satellite. She then took over to pull the satellite out of the payload bay, set it up for deployment, and deploy it. Leestma would then stow the arm.
But during deployment, only one of the satellite’s two solar arrays would open. “The first solar array went up and we go, ‘Okay, we’re ready.’ And the ground says, ‘Okay. Deploy the second one.’ We hit the command and nothing happens. Uh-oh. So what do we do? So we wait, and the ground says, ‘Well, do the backup command.’ So we do the backup, or do it again, whatever it was, and nothing happens and it’s just locked in the side. And we’re going, ‘Oh, no. Now what do we do?,’” Leestma said.
Mission Control told the astronauts to point the satellite toward the sun to see if maybe it was frozen in place, but when they did that nothing happened. The shuttle was about to fly over a dead zone, where they would have approximately twenty minutes of loss of signal with the ground, and the astronauts were plotting how to take advantage of that time. “This was a flight back before we had all the TDRS coverage,” Leestma explained, “so we went through long periods of time where we didn’t have to talk to the ground or they couldn’t see data. We were getting ready to come up over Australia and go through the Canberra site and talk to the ground, and then we would have about a fifteen – to twenty-minute period before we’d talk to anybody, before we’d come up over the States.”
Leestma said he and Ride looked at each other and had the same idea: shake it loose.
We said, “Crip, do you mind if we try to shake this thing loose?" And he said, “Go for it. Just don’t break it.” We go, “Okay. Were not going to break it.” So Sally took the arm and goes to the left as fast as she can and stops it and goes back the other way. The rates in the arm are really slow, but it’s putting some kind of force into it. She did this once and nothing happened. We did it, I think, twice, and the second time, I went, “Something’s moving. ” So she puts it up to the deployment position and we’re watching it, and it slowly moved a little bit, stopped, moved a little bit, stopped, and then it deployed. I went, “Whew!”
Ride quickly positioned the satellite for deployment just as the shuttle came up over the States and back in contact with Mission Control, Leest – ma explained. “The ground said, ‘Okay, we’re with you.’ And then we said, ‘Well, take a look at the satellite. See if we’re ready to go.’ I don’t remember the exact quote, but they came back up and they go, ‘What did you guys do?’ And we said, ‘We aren’t going to tell you, but just check it out, make sure that it’s ready to deploy.’ And they said, ‘Everything looks good.’ And so we made our deploy time and the satellite worked.”
erbs is one of the longest-running spacecraft missions. It was expected to have a two-year operational life, but the mission provided scientific data about Earth’s ozone layer until 2005, more than two decades after deployment. Leestma recalled that improvised decision during the loss of signal as one of the more memorable moments of his spaceflight career.
It’s one of those things that you just kind of go, “Whew!” I don’t think we ever would have gotten permission to do what we did, except that we just decided to go do it. It was fun. That was an exciting time. And both of us looked at each other and we got these kind of sneaky grins on our faces as we’re looking, going, “They would never let us do this, but let’s go try it. ” And Crip let us do it, so that was pretty neat, too. We had a neat crew. The crew was really a lot offun, because we really melded and meshed well together.
Crippen recalled another highlight of the mission, an experiment to test the shuttle’s capability to refuel satellites in orbit, thus extending their lifespan. The test focused on hypergolic fuels, which are dangerous in multiple ways—volatile and toxic. Before the mission, discussions were held as to whether it would be better to perform the test with actual hypergolic fuels or with water, which would simulate many of the properties of the hyper –
golics without the danger. The plan was to conduct the experiment during an eva and have Leestma and Sullivan move the hoses, connect them, and transfer the fluid from one tank to another to see if it was feasible.
The commander, Crippen, was very much in the camp of preferring to err on the side of safety, noting that even a relatively minor problem, such as a leak in the payload bay resulting in hydrazine getting on a spacesuit, would mean the crew member could not come back into the cockpit.
Leestma, on the other hand, was one of the people making the argument that the test should be done with hydrazine instead of water. “Hydrazine is very much like water, but it’s got a lot of different properties, one of which is that it blows up if it’s not handled right. Crip and the safety folks were very, very concerned that we shouldn’t do this with hydrazine. We should just do it with water. The heat transfer properties of water and hydrazine are very, very similar, and that’s what we really wanted to know.”
But while Leestma agreed that using water would provide a great deal of the desired data, he also felt that using water wouldn’t really prove that they could do the transfer with hydrazine. In his opinion, the only way to prove you can refuel with hydrazine in space was to actually do it.
Crippen sent Leestma to White Sands Test Facility to learn all he could about the properties of hydrazine and the benefits and risks of doing the test with fuel or water. Leestma spent ten days at White Sands and came back to Crippen with his report. “I came back from there with a real appreciation for the capabilities of this deadly stuff,” he said.
Not only does it blow up, but it’s really nasty stuff. You can’t breathe it. If you get it on your skin, you can get poisoned. So there were lots of concerns that if we do hydrazine, but if it sprung a leak and even got on our spacesuits, how are we going to get back in the airlock? We don’t want to bring this stuff back in. We spent lots of time on how much bake-out time we’d have to do, how to get it off our suits. If you get in the sun, can you bake it out so that you don’t bring it in the airlock? And then if we do come back in the airlock, how can you test whether you brought any in with you? How do you get rid of it?
However, despite all those concerns, Leestma still believed the right course of action was to test in orbit using the actual fuels, making sure to establish and use effective safety protocols. Leestma reported all the way up to Aaron Cohen, jsc director of engineering, briefing everyone on why the
mission should use hydrazine and not water. Cohen signed off on it, and Crippen finally did too. “Crip probably had the final say-so on that, and he agreed to have us do it with hydrazine, because he had watched me several times in the neutral buoyancy facility to do the whole procedure, and how careful we were, and we had triple containment of the liquids at all times.”
When it came time to do the eva, Leestma described feeling like he was on top of the world.
Going out the hatch and getting your entire faceplate filled with this Earth— which is just a spectacular sight—it’s emotional and spiritual. The Earth is an incredible creation. Your heart rate goes up and you’re going, “I cannot believe I’m doing this." You’re going almost eighteen thousand miles an hour and you’re weightless. You’ve got this four-hundred-pound suit on, and yet you can move yourself with just a finger. Your faceplate is filled with all these clouds and ocean and ground and greens. It brings tears to your eyes. I actually had tears going on. And you don’t want to have tears in your eyes, because you can’t do anything about it inside the faceplate. So you’ve got all these things going on. “What’s going on here? Calm down, Dave. You’ve got a job to do." But it’s a very emotional rush.
Then it was Sullivan’s turn to exit the airlock as the first woman to do a spacewalk.
Kathy comes out, and you know what’s going through her. You don’t really communicate that. And then she’s doing something that is historic. Man, you just go, “Wow! Why do I get to do this?" So then you go, “Well, okay. As long as it’s me, that’s great. Let’s press on." It’s an emotional thing. And then you’re going, at that same time, in the back of your mind, which is always the thought that astronauts have right from the time of launch, is, “Don’t screw this up." Make sure you do it by the book and you’re very careful and very meticulous, and you’re going, “Oh, don’t screw this up. "
I felt like it was five minutes, and then Crip or Jerry Ross, the CapCom, said, “Dave, it’s time to get back in the hatch and wash your hands for supper," or something like that. It didn’t last as long as you’d want to.
After weather had shifted his last two landings away from Kennedy Space Center, Crippen, on his fourth mission, finally got the chance to land in Florida. As the orbiter was coming in lower and lower and slowing down as it came, Crippen said he started to notice just how fast the aircraft was flying, something he said he didn’t notice as much while on orbit.
I’m not really sure why that is, but it seems like you’re going faster, when actually you really are slowing down. I can remember I could see Jacksonville, Florida, when we were over probably in Kansas-Missouri area. I could see the whole peninsula of Florida, and shortly after I picked up Jacksonville, I could see the Cape, because it’s very pronounced where it sticks out there where the Kennedy Space Center is. Then there’s the shuttle landing facility. Visually I think I picked up everything necessary to fly an entry much earlier than I did while we were coming in to California. Even though we were flying on the autopilot and doing very well, if there had been something wrong with the navigation, I felt like I had the capability to fly it on in and land.
Crippen had practiced a Kennedy landing hundreds of times in the Shuttle Training Aircraft, and the real thing seemed pretty much the same, he said. “I often joke that they’ve got a fifteen-thousand-foot runway, but they built this moat around it and filled it full of alligators to give you an incentive to stay on the runway. But it worked out well. The landing was fine.”
Crew: Commander Rick Hauck, Pilot David Walker, Mission Specialists Anna Fisher, Dale Gardner, and Joe Allen
Launched: 8 November 1984
Landed: 16 November 1984
Mission: Launch of two communication satellites, retrieval of two communications satellites
“We were scheduled to launch on the seventh of November early in the morning, and we loaded into the spacecraft,” 51A mission specialist Joe Allen recalled. “We unloaded from the spacecraft, in spite of the fact that it was a beautiful, crystal-clear day in Florida and in spite of the fact that the equipment seemed to be working properly.”
As perfect as both the visible weather and the spacecraft were that day, what the crew could not see was what was going on in the upper atmosphere— high wind shear levels.
Allen said that while the crew of the fourteenth shuttle flight was, of course, disappointed by the delay at the time, he later felt much better about the delay. “History now shows we were also possibly very lucky, because both of the tragic accidents, that of the Challenger and that of Columbia, involved launching through very high wind shear conditions, and there’s some thinking now that high wind shears and Space Shuttles do not safely go together.”
The mission was twofold: release two satellites—the Canadian communications satellite TELESAT-H and the defense communications satellite syncom iv-1 (also known as leasat-i)—and retrieve the westar-6 and the palapa-B2 communication satellites, which were deployed on 41B but failed to achieve proper orbits.
While Allen described the mission as “fairly simple,” some members of the crew felt that people underestimated just how challenging the mission would be. “I got several somewhat rude notes from my fellow astronauts underscoring the fact that in delivering the two satellites to orbit and picking two up, that neither Dale nor I was to get these satellites confused,” recalled Allen. “In other words, don’t bring home satellites that we’d just taken there. It’s very unkind from our fellow astronauts to point this out, but it was kind of funny.”
Allen recalled meeting several days before the scheduled launch with an associate administrator of NASA. According to Allen, this individual was the newly named head of the Public Affairs Office at NASA. No agenda was given for the meeting, save that it was scheduled to last for about an hour and take place in a meeting room in the crew quarters at Kennedy Space Center.
We went into the meeting room in flight suits, we five crew members, and then in came the associate administrator. Very nice gentleman; introduced himself, and I think one of his aides or deputies was with him. Introduced himself all around. We sat down and Rick [Hauck] said, “Now, Mr.—————————————– ”—
it’s unimportant—“what’s the agenda for this meeting.?” Whereupon the naive individual—we didn’t know it at the time—said, “Well, no specific agenda. I just wanted to introduce myself and just say that if there’s anything I can do for you, I’m here to help and wish you good luck. ” We as individual crew members were all surprised, because this really was occupying a good chunk of our morning, and time was very important to us right then. Not that it was discourteous of the individual, but it was unclear why this meeting was to take place.
A day earlier, a story had appeared in the Florida Today newspaper in which an unnamed NASA spokesperson quoted the crew as saying that the likelihood of capturing both satellites was very high. The crew members were very curious about the story and, in talking among themselves, determined that none of them had given the quote. It seemed unlikely as well that a member of the support crew would describe the mission in that way. “We were fretful that those words had gone in, because we thought the task was going to be quite difficult,” Allen said.
We didn’t plan to do anything about it, because newspaper stories are newspaper stories, and it was now water under the bridge. Something about the start of this meeting [with the associate administrator], though, got under Rick’s skin as the commander, and he said, “Mr. So-and-so, there is something that you can do." He then cited this newspaper article of two days ago, and he said, “I do not know who said that. I assure you that none of us said that, nor do we believe it. And I will personally tell you that my assessment is, if we successfully capture one satellite, it will be remarkable, and if we get both satellites, it will be a fucking miracle." And he went on to say, “You can quote me on that." Well, the man was shocked, properly so. We were as well. And then Rick said, “If you have no other business, I think this meeting is over. " We’re ten minutes into a one-hour meeting. He excuses himself, somewhat distressed, with probably good reason, and leaves, and we go back, too, and we sort of said [sarcastically], “Boy, Rick, that was being very commander-like. But good for you."
While his crew members were somewhat surprised by their commander’s remarks, Hauck explained that he was livid over the comments in the article.
I thought, “Here we are, NASA is shooting themselves in the foot because we are implying that this is easy." And I had the opportunity to see this gentleman, and I said, “You have set NASA up for a humongous failure by the nature of this press release. . . . In my view, if we get one of these satellites back, it’ll be amazing, and if we get both of them back, it’ll be a miracle. . . . You have not done NASA any favors. "There’s no sense in trying to tell the American people and the taxpayers that what you’re doing is easy, because it isn’t easy. It’s very hard, and any implication that it’s easy is a disservice to everybody.
Many parties had a vested interest in bringing the satellites back to Earth. NASA was still trying to prove the shuttle’s capabilities. The insurance companies that now owned the failed spacecraft wanted them returned. And McDonnell Douglas, who made the solid rocket motors that failed, was interested in studying what happened to cause the motors to fail. “You put those all together, and there was great motivation from all sides to mount a rescue mission to bring those satellites back,” said Hauck.
The opportunity to recover the satellites came with a great burden of responsibility, even more than usual, Allen said, because of the insurance companies involved. The two insurance companies were Lloyd’s of London and International Technology Underwriters. He explained that while, for insurance companies in the United States, the potential for losses is mostly felt by the corporations, for Lloyd’s, one of the first insurers in the world marketplace, there was a much higher level of personal risk for involved stakeholders. “We learned in a rather roundabout way that more than a few lives would be dramatically affected by our success or nonsuccess, lives of people whom we did not know on the ground, but. . . individuals who would lose [a] considerable amount of their personal wealth if the satellites were not recovered.”
Allen said he found it bizarre that the insurance industry was now involved in space exploration.
I remember hearing an insurance person from England describe the mission we were about to set offon as very unusual, to his way of thinking, because, he pointed out, he had spent a lifetime insuring things against fire or the chance they would explode, and he said, “With you chaps in the space business, you purposely set fire to a massive amount of explosives, and I find myself now betting on whether you can control the explosion or not. ” And I thought that was a rather graphic way to describe a rocket launch. The more one thinks about it, though, it’s a very accurate way, and sadly, a year later, we saw an example of what happened when we chaps could not control the explosion, and we lost Challenger as a consequence, as a tragic consequence.
Capturing the satellites was not an easy assignment, Allen said. Those who built the satellites never envisioned they would be revisited, much less handled by astronauts. The satellites were supposed to be twenty-two thousand miles above the surface of Earth in geosynchronous orbit, far higher than the Space Shuttles could reach, but they had not achieved that orbit.
The only features of the satellites that it might be possible to use as a handle were microwave guides and antennae affixed to the top of the satellites, or possibly the engine nozzle at the bottom of the satellites that was used to reposition them from time to time.
nasa engineers came up with a very clever plan, Allen said. “We decided the antennae would be too fragile to grapple, so they decided we would stab the satellite from the back, using a device that I later called a tribute to Rube Goldberg and Sigmund Freud, the device we called the Stinger.”
Allen said the device resembled a folded umbrella. During a spacewalk, the astronauts would put the Stinger inside the rocket and then open it so that the tines of the umbrella would stick against the sides. “When completely suited in the spacesuit and in the mmu with the Stinger device affixed to our chest, we looked for all the world like a space-age medieval knight entering a jousting contest,” Allen said.
Allen was looking forward to the opportunity to finally don a spacesuit for the recovery operations, after having missed out on participating in the first shuttle spacewalk back on sts-5, due to a problem with the eva suit. He noted a bit of irony in the fact that, without the satellite recovery, he likely would not have had a spacewalk on this mission, either—on STS-5 he had lost out on performing a spacewalk because of one malfunction, and now, because of a malfunction on a different mission, he was getting a second chance.
Allen and Dale Gardner were suited up with help from Pilot David Walker. Walker went to place Allen’s helmet on his head, but Allen said, “Stop.”
I said, “David, stop. I am so hungry. I really need a cookie or something to eat. ” He said, “Oh, Joe, how could you?”. . . I said, “David, I need a butter cookie. ” So he goes off into the food pantry, grabs things, throws it hither and yon, and comes back with a butter cookie. I open my mouth—keep in mind I can’t use my hands now—he puts the butter cookie into my mouth, the whole thing, and then he hits my jaw shut. He says, “Eat it, but don’t choke, you little rodent. ” I ate the butter cookie; felt better. David put the helmet onto me, popped it. We’re now sealed, and there unfolded a pressurizing and then a depressurizing of the airlock, and the eva started.
Allen maneuvered himself in the mmu to the first satellite and successfully grabbed hold of it. But he was facing the sun and was being blinded by its brightness. He radioed to his crew inside the orbiter, and Hauck moved the orbiter so that a shadow was cast on the satellite and Allen was no longer seeing the sun.
“It was beautiful, clever as could be,” said Allen. “I could then see the bull’s-eye, the center, the rocket engine, very easily, threaded it like I’d done it all my life, deployed the tines of the Stinger, tightened down the clamp, and voila, there it was. Anna [Fisher] grappled me with no problem at all; turned around, and Dale set about affixing the clamp to go to the top.”
However, the tool designed to fit on the top of the satellite did not fit. The problem, the crew later learned, was that the actual satellite was not built to the drawings the crew had used on the ground.
About the time we realized this was the case, Discovery came acquisition of signal, and we reported to the ground that the holding tool did not fit, and they said, “Roger that. We’ll get the back room working on it. What is your plan?” And we said, “We’re going to go to Plan B. ” “Roger that. See you next aos, ” and the ground was now out ofearshot again. David Walker, bless his heart, was the keeper ofall the Plan Bs that we as a crew, prior to the launch, had devised, and we’d written them down. What would we do in the event that “blank” failed? We had a Plan B for what we would do in the event that this clamp failed, and it was, sad to say, written on David’s piece of paper just as “Improvise. ” We really did not know what we were going to do.
The crew discussed it and decided that improvisation would involve affixing a foot restraint on the orbiter into which Allen could maneuver the mmu with the satellite. There Fisher would help move the satellite so that Allen could hold the top of it, not with the arm’s grapple fixture, but just by getting a handhold. Gardner would then, by himself, attach the large clamp—normally a two-person job—to the bottom of the satellite. Allen and Gardner had successfully maneuvered the clamp with two people in the water tank at Johnson Space Center several times, and even with two people it hadn’t been easy.
Allen held the satellite for about two hours while Gardner single-handedly affixed the big clamp. “The fact he was able to do it still astonishes me, but he was,” said Allen.
He’s just persistent, the most persistent individual I’ve ever worked with, and one of the smartest, and he did the impossible. Ultimately the clamp was affixed. I later was given far too much credit for supporting a two-thousand-pound satellite for one orbit of the Earth, and a political cartoon appeared in Canadian newspapers the next day showing a chunky little spacesuited crewman standing on the gunnel of an orbiter holding this satellite, and the caption was, “Nobody kicks sand in this man’s face anymore, ” referring back to an old Charles Atlas ad of many, many decades earlier. Dale was not recognized in the paper for the heroic work he had done, but his fellow crew members knew of it and still know of it.
Two days later Allen and Gardner used the exact same procedure to recover the second satellite. Allen recalled,
We were los, loss ofsignal, and Rick, Anna, and Dave all were very pleased for us and said, “Congratulations, ” and Rick, as the commander, said, “Joe and Dale, when we come aos, I want you to report that both satellites are locked safely aboard. ” We looked at each other and kind of shook our heads outside, and almost together, we said, “Rick, that’s the commander’s job. When we come aos, you report that we have two satellites safely aboard, and you can also use the words fucking miracle. ’” We came aos, and Rick, in his Chuck Yeager—type relaxed drawl, said, “Houston, Roger. Discovery here. We have two satellites safely aboard. ” You could hear the Mission Control people cheering through the microphone of the CapCom. It was really quite fun.
Once both satellites were successfully retrieved and stowed in the payload bay, Allen took a photo of Gardner holding a For Sale sign in front of the satellites. “We had prepared in advance of the flight [a sign] that said ‘For Sale,’ because the satellites would be returned and would then be in the ownership and the possession of insurance companies, which had every intention of selling them as brand-new satellites,” Allen explained.
It’s a terrific photo, and one of the only photos I’ve ever taken that shows me as well, because I’m reflected in Dale’s helmet, holding my camera, and the photo shows part of the Earth, the blackness of space, Dale Gardner, the For Sale sign, and my likeness reflected in his helmet; a favorite photo of mine to this day.
When we returned, the For Sale photographs—and Rick and Anna and David had taken many from the flight deck as well—were an important part of the press package that went out, and they showed up in a number of magazines. I might say that the Lloyd’s of London and the International Technology
25. Dale Gardner holding a For Sale sign after retrieving two malfunctioning satellites during sts-51A. Courtesy nasa.
Underwriters were very, very pleased with these photographs. NASA was not as pleased, and we were given somewhat curt—“reprimands ” is the wrong word— curt discussions from our headquarters bosses over what did we have in mind in doing that.
After a nearly eight-day mission, the crew landed with both satellites on board at Kennedy Space Center. Allen said two individuals from the U. S. Customs Department met them in crew quarters.
We were surprised by this, and they said they had forms for us to fill out, because we were bringing into the United States approximately $250 million worth of technical hardware, and there was a certain duty now due on this, because anything that’s imported into the United States over a certain value must be taxed, and the tax would be 10 percent of $250 million. How did we plan to pay for that? Fortunately, they also had an agreement between Customs and the NASA Office of General Counsel that waived this import duty, that the chief NASA lawyer, Neil Hosenball, had foreseen as a complication and had organized the waiver prior to the success of the mission. But we were to sign the Customs form, and for that they gave each of us a United States Customs hat.