Science on the Shuttle
As the nation’s Space Transportation System, the primary goal of the Space Shuttle was just that—to transport people and cargo back and forth between the surface of Earth and orbit around the planet. However, it was quickly obvious that the shuttle had even greater potential.
In 1973 and ’74, the Skylab space station had demonstrated the value of conducting scientific research in Earth orbit. From the beginnings of the Space Shuttle program, plans had been that the vehicle would support a space station that would continue, and build further upon, the work done on Skylab. However, the realities of budgetary constraints meant that the two could not be developed at the same time and that the space station would have to wait.
In the meantime, though, the Space Shuttle itself would provide a stopgap measure— a pressurized module placed inside the orbiter’s cargo bay could be roomy enough to serve as an effective orbital science laboratory.
Crew: Commander John Young, Pilot Brewster Shaw, Mission Specialists Owen Garriott and Bob Parker, Payload Specialists Ulf Merbold (Germany) and Byron K. Lichtenberg
Launched: 28 November 1983
Landed: 8 December 1983
Mission: First flight of the Spacelab laboratory module
Launched in November 1983, STS-9 marked a new step forward for the Space Shuttle program, while also hearkening back to the first four missions. The first mission to fly the Spacelab science module, STS-9 was both a demonstration and an operational flight. The primary purpose was to make sure that the Spacelab module worked properly, but that was achieved
by conducting a full complement of scientific experiments. According to STS-9 mission specialist Owen Garriott, who was a member of nasa’s first group of scientist-astronauts and of the second crew of Skylab, the mission of Spacelab I included experiments in biomedicine, astronomy, fluid physics, materials processing, and atmospheric sciences.
A rack of fluid physics equipment enabled the crew to inject liquids, shake them and rotate them, combine them and stretch them, in order to study the small forces associated with the surface tension and the even smaller forces that are associated with fluids that cannot be as easily demonstrated or measured in a one-g environment. An adjacent double rack was dedicated to materials science. The racks included furnaces in which material samples could be heated and resolidified. Other equipment focused light on a crystal, melted it, and then allowed it to solidify more carefully. Spectrometers flown on the mission allowed the crew to conduct stellar astronomy and air-glow research through the orbiter’s windows.
The variety of the experiments was what drew Garriott to the flight. Garriott, who spent more than fifty-nine days in space as a science pilot astronaut aboard Skylab, explained that for a mission like Skylab or STS-9 that is focused on interdisciplinary scientific research, the ideal crew member is a scientific generalist, with interest and ability in multiple areas, rather than someone who specializes in one field. “My interest is interdisciplinary work, so I found [the mission] quite interesting, and I think it does relate to the fact that you need an interdisciplinary background to try to conduct experiments for all of these pis [principal investigators]. You obviously can’t have a representative for each pi there, and you need somebody who has got some degree of competency in all of the variety of areas.”
Before the flight assignment, during the period between Skylab and shuttle, Garriott had gone into management, becoming director of science and applications at Johnson Space Center. He was still a member of the astronaut corps but was no longer actively involved with the Astronaut Office.
I had my hands full two buildings away. I think I still talked to the folks in the Astronaut Office all the time. I was still flying airplanes. I might have been going over to those weekly meetings as well. But I did not have any acting role in the Astronaut Office from the standpoint of getting ready for shuttle or anything else. I was expecting to stay in the Science and Applications
26. In the Spacelab on the first Spacelab mission are Robert Parker, Byron Lichtenberg, Owen Garriott, and Ulf Merbold. Courtesy nasa.
Directorate until another flight opportunity came along. I’d always intended to return to the Astronaut Office full time as soon as there was the first flight opportunity available.
Garriott started training for the shuttle in 1978, when nasa believed the mission was still only about three years away. “We had a lot of training to do,” Garriott recalled, “because there were something like sixty experiments on board, half from Europe, half from the U. S., roughly. And we visited almost every pi at their facilities and talked with them about how to operate it and the hardware development.”
During that period the crew was very involved in the development of the Spacelab hardware, particularly the controls and displays the astronauts would use to interface with the equipment. “If you don’t understand how [something] works, if it’s not something that’s human friendly, you can waste a lot of time or make a lot of mistakes,” Garriott said. “That was the one thing that supposedly the crew members were more expert in, the interface between man and machine.”
Delays meant that Garriott did not make his second spaceflight until a full decade after his first, but he said it was worth it. “That ten-year delay is longer than I expected, but it’s a decision that I really made when I went
over to Science and Applications in the first place. I wanted to come back and fly again. And so I was just anxious to get back and fly again.”
The variety of the experiments meant that the crew members had to spend a substantial amount of time learning about the experiments and working on the ground with the principal investigators with whom they would be interacting from orbit. There had been fewer disciplines represented on Skylab, Garriott recalled, so crew members did not have to travel as much or as far to talk with the principal investigators. “In fact, for most of the time, they came to jsc for our solar physics training and for our biomedical training.” On Spacelab, the investigators were all over the world, with experiments from around the United States, from countries in Europe, and one from Japan. “We were very international and traveled all over the world in order to talk with the investigators about the conduct of their experiments. I feel so fortunate to have had the chance to work in all of these different disciplines with the real world’s experts and to learn from them.”
Garriott also felt fortunate to work with the other astronauts on STS-9, including Commander John Young.
I’ve always gotten along extremely well with my fellow crewmates. John Young, who was the commander of Spacelab I, is not an Alan Bean [commander ofGar – riott’s Skylab crew]. He’s motivated differently, different personality, [a] standard sort ofaprototypical test pilot. I was a little concerned about that, since we were bringing in the first foreign international. How well is that going to work? It turns out it worked extremely well, for which I give John Young a lot ofcredit. I really enjoyed having John as the commander ofour flight. And I think after we came back he had no better friend on board our flight than Ulf Merbold. They still often talk. Whenever Ulf comes back, I think they get together for dinner.
While the commander’s primary responsibility in orbit was the operation of the vehicle and oversight of the crew, Garriott noted that Young made several other contributions to support the scientific portions of the mission. For example, when the mounting apparatus for a camera used for a vestibular experiment broke, rather than allowing thousands of film frames to go to waste, Young took the camera and film to the flight deck and spent time taking Earth-observation photographs.
“John really jumped in and assisted in the conduct of the science,” Garriott commented. “Before flight there was some little concern about that,
that whether or not a standard prototypical test pilot would enjoy and participate. But we all really enjoyed having him on board. He did his share, as did the rest of us.”
sts-9 was the first nasa flight to include payload specialists, astronauts who were not career nasa employees. Ulf Merbold, the first international astronaut to fly on the shuttle, was a West German astronaut from the European Space Agency, and Byron Lichtenberg was a researcher from the Massachusetts Institute ofTechnology (mit).
Garriott described the feelings of the career astronauts toward the payload specialists as “uncertainty” and compared it to when his class of scientist – astronauts joined the all-pilot astronaut corps.
When we came into the Astronaut Office, I can imagine that the pilots were thinking, “Geez, these old fuzz-hair university types, can they hold their own here, do they know what’s going on?" In the same way, these [payload specialists] are really university types here. Are they really motivated to fly, can they hold their own, and so forth? And I very quickly found out that yes, indeed, they could. They were on par with all of us. We were very much of the same kind of breed, in my opinion. We got along extremely well. Everybody got along fine. And after thirty years, they’re still some of my best friends. So it was a very pleasant and positive experience for both ms and ps [mission specialists and payload specialists] as far as Spacelab I is concerned. I think that is generally true for most of the flights, though not necessarily in each individual case. When you get up to twenty, thirty people, you’re bound to find some rough corners somewhere. I can say on Spacelab I, it was a remarkably positive experience for all of us.
While Garriott did not recall any resentment over payload specialists taking slots that otherwise might have gone to career astronauts, he also noted that in the case of STS-9, the payload specialists had trained for as long as the newest nasa astronauts had been in the corps.
Brewster Shaw, the pilot for STS-9, said that, being in a crew that was mostly rookie space flyers, it was interesting working with veteran astronauts Garriott and Young.
John and Owen were the only two guys who had flown. [Robert] Parker had never flown. I’d never flown, and Ulf and Byron had never flown before. So John and
Owen were the experienced guys, and they kind of were the mentors of the rest of us. It was fun to watch Owen Garriott back in the module, because you could tell right from the beginning he’d been in space before, because he knew exactly how to handle himself how to keep himselfstill, how to move without banging all around the other place. And the rest of us, besides he and John, the rest of us were bouncing off the walls until we figured out how to operate. But Owen, it was just like, man, he was here yesterday, you know, and it really had been years and years.
Garriott was among the very small number of astronauts to have the experience of flying on both the Saturn IB rocket and the Space Shuttle. “The launch phase is remarkably similar, because both vehicles have a thrust
which is just a little bit more than the weight of the vehicle. You start out
at very low acceleration levels,” Garriott explained, comparing the g-forces of the vehicles’ initial accelerations to what one would experience in a car.
It keeps building up a little bit, but the important thing is it’s steady. When you accelerate in a car, you accelerate for three or four seconds and then you reach the speed you want to be at. Here, you keep on accelerating. So you keep up an acceleration which is increasing up to maybe three or four gs. But it takes about eight and a half minutes, nine minutes, to get to space on either one of the two vehicles. As you lift off there’s quite a bit of vibration with either vehicle. Once you get above about one hundred thousand feet, first ofall, you stage, you switch to a smaller engine on a second stage, and you’re above most of the atmosphere so the vibration diminishes. Then it just becomes a nice steady push, and you continue that push at about three to four gs, all the rest of the way till you’re into orbit. All of a sudden you’re bouncing up against your straps. So the launch is remarkably the same, in my view, between a Saturn and a shuttle.
With the development, training, and launch complete, it was time for the real business of STS-9 to begin. The crew worked for twenty-four hours a day, divided into two shifts. The commander and pilot each were assigned one shift, and the scientists were split between them. Each crew member was on duty for about twelve hours, with a brief handoff between shifts. The astronauts then had twelve hours off duty, during which to sleep, eat, get ready, and enjoy the experience of being in space.
Shaw remembered that he and Young would spend the majority of their work shifts on the orbiter’s flight deck.
You didn’t want to leave the vehicle unattended very much, because this is still STS-9, fairly early in the program. We hadn’t worked out all the bugs and everything, and neither John nor I felt too comfortable leaving the flight deck unattended, so we spent most of our time there. We had a few maneuvers to do once in a while with the vehicle, and then the rest of the time you were monitoring systems. After a few days of that, boy, it got pretty boring, quite frankly. You spent a lot of time looking out the window and taking pictures and all that. But there was nobody to talk to, because the other guys were back in the back end in the Spacelab working away, and, you know, you just had this, “Gosh, I wish I had something to do, " kind of feeling.
While he and Young were not heavily involved in the research part of the mission, Shaw did recall being part of one experiment, designed to study how humans adapted to working in space.
I did “Helen’s balls.". . . Helen was a principal investigator, and she had a bunch of little yellow balls that were different mass. . . . Since there’s no weight, there’s only mass, in zero g we had to try and differentiate between the mass of these balls. You would take a ball in your hand and you would shake it and you would feel the mass of it by the inertia and the momentum of the ball as you would start and stop the motion. Then you’d take another one and you’d try and differentiate between [them], and eventually you’d try and rank [the] order of the balls. . . . And, quite frankly, that’s the only experiment I remember doing.
Garriott used his second flight as an opportunity to make history in a way that had a lasting legacy for the space program. When Garriott was younger, his father took an amateur radio class with him, and the two became ham operators. After he was assigned to sts-9, Garriott got permission to take an amateur radio rig with him on Columbia and was able to make contact with people on the ground. “I’d say fifteen to twenty hours was reserved for use of the ham equipment. . . after the working day was over,” Garriott recalled. “I found that quite interesting and enjoyable, and it turned out to be a very positive thing from the standpoint of the ham radio community.”
While Garriott mostly talked with whomever he happened to get in contact with, he had prearranged a few conversations. “There were a few high – profile people that that’s the only way you’ll be able to get in touch with them. Normally, when you just want to talk to anybody, you use a call signal that’s called ‘cq.’ And if you call CQ from space, you’ll probably get a hundred answers, so you’re way overloaded. So if you want to [reach] one particular person, you have to specify a time and frequency that’s kept private.” One of the preplanned calls was to Garriott’s hometown of Enid, Oklahoma. “I made arrangements to talk with them and my mother. . . with one of the local hams on the radio,” he said. “Another one was [Senator] Barry Goldwater, who is a very well-known ham in the Senate and always looked after amateur radio very well from that position. And another internationally known, great enthusiast was King Hussein from Jordan.”
For the hundreds of other people Garriott talked to in addition to those preplanned calls, he used a tape recorder to log the contacts. “Everyone I could discern answering my call, I would repeat back their call sign, as many as possible. And then I listened to every one of those tapes. And I had another friend go through the whole list, and we responded to everyone whose call sign we could pick out of there. So there were, I don’t know, four or five hundred people that all received a card called a QSL, that’s another special symbol that’s used by hams as a symbol of a contact between two people.” Garriott’s initiative to use amateur radio on STS-9 created a lasting legacy. Almost thirty additional shuttle flights carried ham radio and used it to talk to schoolchildren and other groups, allowing students to ask questions of astronauts in orbit during organized events. Years later, amateur radio became a fixture on the International Space Station, with its first crew conducting a ham radio conversation with a school within weeks of boarding the station. Thousands of students have had the chance to talk to orbiting astronauts as a result of the amateur radio contacts begun by Garriott.
That legacy paid off for Garriott himself in a very special way many years later. In 2008 Garriott’s son, Richard, became the first second-generation American space flyer as a spaceflight participant on a Russian Soyuz flight to the International Space Station. While there, Richard was able to use the equipment on the Space Station to talk to his father on the ground. As unique as that experience was, it had an even deeper personal significance for the elder Garriott. “My father and I got our ham licenses together back in 1945, and his call sign was W5KWQ. Mine was W5LNL. Now, normally, when a person dies, they reserve that for a little while, but then they’ll eventually reissue the call sign. So after my father died, which would have been back in ’81, it hadn’t been reissued yet. So my son got his license [in 2006], and they allowed him to have his grandfather, my father’s, call sign again.” During his son’s flight, Garriott was able to respond to a contact from his father’s call sign, now used by his son.
Garriott recalled another amusing communications-related incident during the STS-9 flight. Given the historic nature of the first flight of an international astronaut, a video link was set up between the shuttle, President Ronald Reagan, and West German chancellor Helmut Kohl. The link was to include Commander (and moonwalker) Young, German astronaut Merbold, and the U. S. payload specialist, Lichtenberg. In order to save the time of the three crew members to be featured, the two mission specialists and the pilot were asked to help set up the link and then turn it over to the others. In response to being treated as second-class astronauts, the trio made a silent protest—when the link was established for testing, the video showed Garriott, Parker, and Shaw in a classic “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” pose, with one each covering his eyes, ears, and mouth. “What we were told was that was a hilarious, humorous scene in the control room and that it got into Time magazine.”
While Garriott’s launch experiences were fairly similar between the Saturn IB and the Space Shuttle, his landing experiences were not. Initially, he explained, the return to Earth begins similarly on both vehicles. A slight slowing causes the vehicle to dip into the atmosphere, creating an unforgettable glow as the air around the spacecraft heats up. “On the shuttle I happened to be sitting right beside the side window on the mid-deck, so you see all of the blue and yellow flames coming by. Then you get a little lower, it will turn to orange and reddish flames as the temperatures drop down a little bit.”
At that point, the differences between the two reentries begin to be obvious.
As you really get lower, on the command module you have to pop drogue chutes to orient your spacecraft. When you get down to about ten thousand feet, I believe it is, the main chutes come out, and then you finally get down to a big splash in the water. That’s quite different than coming down in a glider. You’ve been used to seeing the rate at which the Earth moves by [from space]. Once you get down to a lower altitude, the Earth starts moving by faster and faster, because you’re lower, you’re closer to it. So it’s interesting to see those two comparisons.
The landing of STS-9 was more than a little unusual. According to Shaw, “We had another lesson on the landing of STS-9, and the lesson was, never let them change the software in the flight control system without having adequate opportunity to train with it.”
The shuttle’s flight control software interprets what actions it needs to take based on the inputs the commander makes on the stick, and how it responds depends on what point it is at in the mission. The settings that Young and Shaw used during training were replaced for the actual flight, which changed how the vehicle handled.
“I don’t remember if we knew about that or didn’t know about that,” Shaw said,
but certainly when John started to de-rotate the vehicle, it responded differently than he had trained on. So here we are. John’s flying the vehicle. I’m giving him all the altitude and airspeed calls and everything, and you feel this nice main gear gently settling onto the lake bed. . . . There were only two of us on the flight deck, as I recall, because we still had the ejection seats in Columbia at that time. They hadn’t been taken out, so there was no room for another seat. So. .. the other four were on the mid-deck, and you hear this, “Yay!" and clapping when the main gear touched the ground very gently. Then John gets the thing de-rotated and we’re down to about 150 knots or so when the nose gear hits the ground, and it goes “smash!" So it changes from this “Yay! Yay!" to “Jesus Christ! What was that?" That was just really funny, and I got all of that on tape, because I had a tape recorder going. And poor John, he was embarrassed because of this, the way the nose gear hit down, but it wasn’t his fault. They had changed this thing without him being able to practice using the new flight control system. So that was a good lesson.
The crew learned the next day that Columbia had also suffered yet another problem during the reentry and landing—a fire in the vehicle’s auxiliary power units. “We had one apu shut down, and then when we shut the other two apus down, normally after landing, it turns out one of them was also on fire,” Shaw explained.
The reason the first one shut down was it was on fire. . . and it automatically shut itself down. . . . The next one didn’t shut down until we actually shut it down. But there were two of them that were burning. . . . So we had a fire outside the APUs that when we shut them down and shut the ammonia off to them, the fires went out. So we had some damage back there, but the fires stopped.
But we didn’t know anything about that till the next day. I got this call and John says, “Hey, did you know that the apus were burning?" "No, I sure didn’t. ”
The flight also had two of the general-purpose computers (gpcs) fail. “That was an interesting thing, too,” Shaw recalled.
John and I were in the de-orbit prep, . . . and we were reconfiguring the GPCs and the flight control systems and the rcs [reaction control system] jets and stuff. . . . About the time that we were reconfiguring the computers, we had a couple of thruster ^firings, and the big jets in the front fired and it’s like these big cannons—boom! boom!—and it shocks the vehicle. You know, you really can feel it if you’re touching the structure. So we had one of these firings and we got the big “Xpole fail” on the CRT, meaning the computer had failed. This is the first computer failure we had on the program. Our eyes got about that big. So I get out the emergency procedure checklist and. . . we started going through the steps and everything. And in just a couple of minutes we had another one fail the same way. . . . So now we were really interested in what was going on. We ended up waiving off our de-orbit at that time. . . . The ground decided, no, we’re going to wait and try to figure out what’s going on with these computers.
When Young’s shift ended, with nothing more he could do to address the problem and wanting to be rested for the landing, he went down to the mid-deck to take a nap, leaving Shaw “babysitting” on the flight deck.
Well, during that timeframe, all of a sudden there starts this noise, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. The next thing, one ofour three imus [inertial measurement units] . . . failed and we couldn’t recover it. It turned out its gimbal was failing and it was beating itself to death against the gimbal stop, and that was the banging noise. After a few hours, John comes back upstairs and says, “You know, I really appreciate you guys making all that banging noise when I’m trying to sleep down there. ” I said, “Jeez, John, I’ve got some bad news. Man, we lost an imu. ” And John’s eyes get this big again, because we’ve had two gpc failures and now an imu failure. Anyhow, we got through all that and we entered and landed, and when the nose gear slapped down, one of the gpcs that had recovered failed again. One of them didn’t recover and we flew down with one less computer, but that computer failed again, and that’s why I reconfigured flight control systems, as I remember now, because of that computer failure.
Despite the drama of the landing, once Columbia was successfully and safely on the ground, Shaw and the agency were pleased with the results of the shuttle’s first dedicated scientific flight. “We learned a lot from that flight, a tremendous amount. Seventy-seven different investigations, as I recall, on that mission. It was a tremendous success.”
Crew: Commander Bob Overmyer, Pilot Fred Gregory, Mission Specialists Don Lind, Norm Thagard, and Bill Thornton, Payload Specialists Lodewijk van den Berg and Taylor Wang Orbiter: Challenger Launched: 29 April 1985 Landed: 6 May 1985 Mission: Second Spacelab flight
The next Spacelab flight, 51B, came in April 1985. And there may have been no one more excited about it than astronaut Don Lind, who had been selected in NASA’s fifth group of astronauts in 1966. “I set a record. No one has waited for a spaceflight longer than I have,” Lind said. “I hope nobody ever has to do that. But with the six and a half years I spent in training for two flights that didn’t fly, and then the delays in getting the shuttle program going, and with the [Apollo i fire, there were long delays, and so it was nineteen years before I got to fly.”
For Fred Gregory, the pilot of the mission and one of the astronauts selected in the class of ’78, the wait wasn’t nearly so long, but it was nonetheless a huge honor to finally be selected for a crew. “There was shifting of launch times, because we were on Spacelab III and I know we launched before Spacelab II and after Spacelab I. I think they had some payloads that they wanted to deploy quickly, and so the laboratory missions were kind of put in a kind of a second category for priority. But, you know, the date wasn’t important at the time.”
Gregory found it interesting that the overwhelming majority of his training was for a very small part of the mission. Over three-fourths of his training focused on the eight and a half minutes of launch and hour of entry, out of a week-long mission. While the proportions may have seemed odd, it was necessary to make sure the flight deck crew was ready to perfectly execute the tasks required of it no matter what happened.
It’s like a ballet, you know, without music: individual but coordinated activities that resulted in the successful accomplishments ofeach of these phases, regardless of the type offailure or series offailures that this training team would impose on you. So that’s what we trained for. There were two thousand or so switches and gauges and circuit breakers, any number of which we would involve ourselves with during these two phases, ascent and entry. So the intent was for us to learn this so well, understand the system so well, that we could brush through a failure scenario and safe the orbiter in the ascent such that we could get on orbit and then have time to discuss what the real problem was and then allow you to correct it.
Eventually, it was time to move from the simulations to the real thing. As with sts-9, two shifts worked around the clock. “While each shift worked, the other shift slept,” Gregory said.
We had enclosed bunks on the mid-deck of the orbiter, and that’s where the off shift would sleep, so we never saw them really…. Each shift had its own area of interest, so there was really no competition between the two of them. . . . There were really about four hours a day there was an interaction between the two. It would be the two-hour postsleep transition, when one is just waking up. A shift is waking up, and they are picking up the ball, so to speak, from the other shift. The other shift then prepares to go to bed.
As pilot, Gregory’s responsibilities in orbit mainly focused on the support systems that kept the orbiter functioning. He was technically in charge of one shift, but since the scientists were largely capable of carrying out their duties on their own, his support of them centered around maintaining the vehicle. “During that mission there were very few problems, and those that we had were very minor. So not only did I monitor the shuttle, but I also had a great deal of time to learn about the Earth, and then spent a lot of time looking into deep space. We were in a high-inclination orbit, 57D degrees, and so it gave us an excellent view of a great part of the Earth.”
The crew was joined by some rather unusual travel mates, recalled Don Lind:
We had the first laboratory animals in space, and Bill Thornton had to worry about them on one shift, and Norm would worry about them on the other shift. . . . We had two cute little squirrel monkeys and twenty-four less-than – cute laboratory rats.
27. The Spacelab in the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle. Courtesy nasa.
The squirrel monkeys adapted very quickly. They had been on centrifuges. They had been on vibration tables. So they knew what the roar and the feeling of space was going to be like. Squirrel monkeys have a very long tail, and ifthey get excited, they wrap the tail around themselves and hang on to the tip of the tail. Ifthey get really excited, they chew on the end of their own tail. By the time we.. . activated the laboratory, which was about three hours after liftoff they were now adjusted. They had, during liftoff apparently chewed off about a quarter of an inch of the end of their tails, but they were adjusted and just having a ball. I kept saying, “Let’s let one of them out." “No, no, cant do that. We’d never catch him again."
While the monkeys adapted quickly, the laboratory rats were somewhat slower. “The laboratory rats were not quite as savvy as the monkeys,” Lind said. “They had also been on vibration tables and acoustical chambers and that sort of thing, but they hadn’t learned that this was going to last awhile, and when
we got into the laboratory, they were hanging on to the edge of the cage and looking very apprehensive. After about the second day, they finally found out if they’d let go of the screen, they wouldn’t fall, and they probably enjoyed the rest of the mission. But they were slower in adapting. No big problem.”
Gregory noted that he and Overmyer had the “privilege” of helping with the monkeys at one point, doing cleanup work capturing debris from the food and waste escape in the holding facility.
These rhesus monkeys that we had were extremely spoiled. I think that the environment that they had come from before they came on the orbiter was a place where they received a lot ofattention from the caregivers there. Norm and I would look back into the Spacelab, and we would see Bill Thornton attempting to get these monkeys to do things, like touch the little trigger that would release the food pellets. And I could tell. .. watching them that they expected Bill to do that for them. So we looked back there one time, and we could see that kind of the roles were reversed, that Bill was actually doing antics on the outside of the cage and the monkeys were watching. We almost joked sometimes that they started laughing, and they went back and ate. It was an interesting dynamic to watch Bill Thornton wrestle with or react with the monkeys. It was quite an act back there.
Lind recalled that the substantial amount of automation involved in the Spacelab experiments provided him with a unique opportunity to do an experiment of his own. When he realized that a good bit of his duties would consist of regularly checking on automated equipment, he and a partner proposed an experiment to look at the aurora from space. Prior to his mission, the aurora had been photographed from space by slow-scan photometers, which give a blurred picture. On Skylab, Owen Garriott had taken a limited number of photographs of the aurora on the horizon.
“There were a few pictures, but not many,” Lind explained.
So Tom and I started thinking about how we could do this. The first thing we wanted were high-time-resolution pictures of the aurora made with a TV camera. So we started looking around. What TV system could we get that would be sensitive enough in such a low light level? It turned out that the tv camera that was already on the Space Shuttle was as good as any TV camera we could have bought in the world. But we had to take off the color wheel and photograph in black and white instead of color. So we asked and got one of the TVs modified. Because [we would be doing that only] in black and white, you want to take some still photographs in color to document what color the auroral light is, since that will identify what particles are emitting the light. So we started to look around for an appropriate camera and camera lens. It turned out that the camera that we already had on board and the lens we already had on board were, again, as good as we could have gotten anywhere. NASA only had to buy three rolls of film, special, sensitive color film. So this experiment cost NASA thirty-six dollars, and it’s the cheapest experiment that has ever gone into space. It was very satisfying to us that we made some discoveries on thirty-six dollars. We claimed that we could do more science per dollar per pound than anybody else in the space program.
The experiment proved to be not only cheap, but also effective, revealing a new component of aurora formation.
Despite the busy shift schedule and the additional experiment Lind had proposed to fill the extra time, he eventually found some time to appreciate the view from the orbiter’s flight deck windows.
It was like a Cinerama presentation. Both my wife and I are amateur oil painters. … I thought, “Could I ever paint that?"The answer is absolutely not. Grum – bacher [art materials company] doesn’t make a blue that’s deep enough for the great ocean trenches. You look out tangentially through the Earth’s horizon, and you see—I was quite surprised—many different layers of intense blue colors, about twenty to twenty-two different layers of cobalt and cerulean and ultramarine and other shades, and then the blackest, blackest space you can imagine. When you go over the archipelagoes and the atolls and islands in the Pacific and down in the Bermudas, you see the water coming up toward the shore from the deep trenches, and it appears as hundreds of shades of blue and blue green up to a little white line, which is the surf, and another little brown line, which is the beach. Nobody will ever paint that. It’s magnificent.
Lind was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the view that it brought tears to his eyes, which he discovered was also a very different experience in orbit.
In space, tears don’t trickle down your cheeks; that’s caused by gravity. In space the tears stay in the eye socket and get deeper and deeper, and after a minute or two I was looking through a half inch of salt water. I thought, “Ooh, this is like a guppy trying to see out of the top of the aquarium." Simultaneously with this, there’s this sense of incredible beauty. But then I had a spiritual feeling, because several scriptures popped into my mind. You know, the nineteenth Psalm, “The heavens declare the glory of God." One of the unique Mormon scriptures is, “If you’ve seen the corner of heaven, you’ve seen God moving in his majesty and power." In the book of Romans, it says that the righteous will be coinheritors with Jesus Christ of all this. I thought, you know, “This must be the way the Lord looks down at the Earth." Because from space, you cant see any garbage along the highway. You cant hear any family fights. You see just the beauty of how the Lord created this Earth, and that was a very spiritual, moving experience, along with the aesthetics, the physical beauty. I’ll always remember that special feeling, besides the technical satisfaction of a successful mission.
Crew: Commander Gordon Fullerton, Pilot Roy Bridges, Mission Specialists Story Musgrave, Tony England, and Karl Henize, Payload Specialists Loren Acton and John-David Bartoe
Launched: 29 July 1985
Landed: 6 August 1985
Mission: Third flight of the Spacelab laboratory module
The third Spacelab flight, 51F, was commanded by Gordon Fullerton, marking his return to space after serving as pilot of the final demonstration flight, sts-4. “It was a great mission,” Fullerton commented.
It really was. Some of the missions were just going up and punching out a satellite, and then they had three days with nothing to do and came back. We had a payload bay absolutely stuffed with telescopes and instruments. We had the instrument-pointing system that had never been flown. We had the idea of letting a satellite go and then flying this precise orbit around it and then going back and getting it. So, all kinds of new things, which took a lot of work to write the checklists for, write the flight plan, and so we spent a year and a halfdoing that.
After all the preparation, the mission had a rather inauspicious beginning. All three Space Shuttle main engines lit properly on schedule seconds before the scheduled launch, but then one failed before the solid rocket motors were ignited, leading to a launchpad abort.
“Karl Henize was pounding on his leg, really mad because he didn’t get to go,” Fullerton recalled.
I turned around to Karl and said, “We don’t want to go, Karl. There’s something wrong out there, you know. " We were worried then: is this going to. . . mess everything up? It did to some extent, but the ground worked overtime, because everything was sequenced by time because it’s an astronomy thing. Whether we’re on the dark side or the light side, all that had to be rewritten. And it all worked out great. We even made up for the fuel we’d had to dump because of the engine failure on the way up [on our second attempt] and eked out an extra day on it. We were scheduled for seven and made it eight.
Once on orbit, the crew followed the established Spacelab pattern of working twenty-four hours a day, in two, twelve-hour shifts. “I anchored my schedule to overlap transitions, so if something came up on one shift, I could learn about it and carry it over to the next shift, hopefully,” Fullerton recalled.
But I also had to stagger things so I got on the right shift for entry, so I was in some kind of reasonable shape at the end of the mission. At the beginning, too, we had the red team sleeping right up till launch time so that once we got on orbit, the red team was the first one up, and they’d go for it for twelve hours. So it was all that kind of thing, juggling around so that the right people that had to be alert for launch and entry were. We got into that circadian cycle prior to launch. So the last week they didn’t see the other team; I only saw part of one and part of the other myself.
Compared to his first mission on a two-person demonstration flight, the presence of a larger, seven-member crew this time around had downsides as well as benefits.
The pressure is higher when you’re commander—the pressure of making sure that not only you, but somebody else, doesn’t throw the wrong switch. With Jack and I, it was just the two of us. He only had to worry about me, and I him. We could double-check each other. With seven people, there are many opportunities for somebody to blow it, not to say instant disaster, but to use too much fuel or to overheat some system or not have the right ones on and blow the chance to get this data. . . . That’s a lot of other people throwing switches, too.
In addition to the responsibility of supervising the crew’s actions, Fullerton found many other pressures involved in the role of commander.
During the entry, there was the pressure, [of] it’s your fault if this doesn’t come out right. When you’re in the [pilot’s] right seat, it’s not all your fault. The commander bears culpability even if you make a mistake. I’m dwelling on this pressure thing because that really is a strong part of the challenge. I mean, you’re really tired after spaceflight. I think you’re tired mostly because you elevate yourself to this mental high level of awareness that you’re maintaining. Even when you’re trying to sleep, you’re worried about this and that. So it’s not like you’re just lollygagging around and having a good time. You’re always thinking about what’s next and mostly clock watching. Flying in orbit is watching a clock. Everything’s keyed to time, and so you’re worried about missing something, being late.
The mission featured another historic footnote. In the mid-1980s the “Cola Wars” between competing soda brands Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola were in full swing, and on this mission the competition moved into space. Each company attempted to find a way to dispense its beverages in microgravity so that astronauts could drink them on the shuttle. Gravity plays an important role in the proper mix of carbonated sodas, and in microgravity the carbonation separates. The goal was to create a device that would ensure the beverages were properly mixed as they were consumed. Ultimately, however, the unique factors of the near-weightless environment limited the success of both attempts.
Astronaut Don Peterson, who had already left the astronaut corps at the time, recalled an incident during the 51F flight that demonstrated just how many people it took to make the shuttle successful, including a large number of people who never receive any recognition. “I remember, this. . . was one of the flights that Story Musgrave was on, because he and I were friends and I was kind ofwatching. During launch, they got an indication from instrumentation that one of the engines on the orbiter was overheating; . . . it was overpressure or overheat, something, and they shut it down,” Peterson remembered.
They were far enough along in launch that they could still get to orbit. Well, then they got the same indication on the second engine. Now, if you shut down a second engine, you’re into an abort, and that’s a pretty messy operation. There was a young woman [who] looked at that. She was the booster control in the
Mission Control Center and this is happening in real time. You’ve [got] to realize, this sucker’s up there burning away and you’ve got people, human beings, on board and all that. She looked at that and said, “I don’t believe we’ve got two engine failures on the same flight. That’s highly improbable. I believe we’ve got an instrumentation failure. Don’t shut the engine down. " Now, in hindsight, that was a wonderful decision, but had she been wrong, the back end of the vehicle would have blown out and killed everybody on board and lost a shuttle.
While the woman’s decision saved the mission, she received little recognition for her split-second call, outside of nasa insiders closest to the situation.
Of course, the flight crew and all us people thanked her profusely, and she was recognized, but I don’t think she ever really got any public recognition for that at all. But, I mean, that’s a life-or-death decision under tremendous pressure with. . . human beings and a two-and-a-half-billion-dollar vehicle. And you can’t get under much more pressure than that, and she called it right. What I did to her was terrible. I called her up later. I waited about a month and called her up and said, “I’m Robert Smith, and I’m a reporter with Life magazine. I understand that you’re the woman that saved Story Musgrave’s life." And there was this long, long silence. And finally she said, “Who the hell is this?" Story has a reputation as a lady’s man. So she kind of got a kick out of that, I think.
Crew: Commander Hank Hartsfield, Pilot Steven Nagel, Mission Specialists Bonnie Dunbar, James Buchli, and Guion Bluford, Payload Specialists Reinhard Furrer, Ernst Messerschmid, and Wubbo Ockels Orbiter: Challenger Launched: 30 October 1985 Landed: 6 November 1985 Mission: German Spacelab laboratory flight
The fourth Spacelab flight, 61A, was yet another mission that introduced new elements to the shuttle program by building on its predecessors, particularly the first Spacelab flight. STS-9 had been distinguished from previous shuttle missions in part for carrying the first European crew member, West German astronaut Ulf Merbold. If STS-9 had been a further step toward international spaceflight, 6ia was a leap—a mission purchased by and dedicated to the work of a foreign country, West Germany.
Commander Hank Hartsfield recalled explaining to a West German reporter the circumstances of Germany paying to use the German-built Spacelab module. “He said he wants to know how much Germany has to pay the United States to use their Spacelab, because Spacelab was built in Germany. It was built in Bremen. They were very sensitive about it. I think Germany had paid eighty million dollars for that flight. But this reporter was taking a very nationalistic look at it: ‘We built it and now we have to pay to use it.’” Hartsfield explained that what the reporter failed to understand was that, while West Germany had built the modules, it did not own them. The first Spacelab module West Germany built, lmi, was given to the United States in exchange for flying Payload Specialist Ulf Merbold and experiments, and the second, LM2, was purchased by nasa.
According to Hartsfield, working with the Germans in planning the mission was an interesting process, filled with “delicate” negotiations. While he explained that he would stop short of describing nasa’s West German partners as “demanding,” they definitely had expectations for what they wanted out of the mission. “They pushed hard to get what they wanted out of the contract that they had signed with the U. S., and they took an approach where they would hang up on words, on what a word meant, in the agreement.”
For example, one of the biggest controversies Hartsfield remembered is what language would be used on the mission.
They wanted to use the German language and talk to the ground crews in Germany and speak German. I opposed that for safety reasons. We cant have things going on in which my part of the payload crew can’t understand what they’re getting ready to do. It was clearly up front, the operational language will be English. We fought that one hard. We finally cut a deal that in special cases, where there was real urgencies, that we could have another language used, but before any action is taken, it has to be translated into English so that the commander or my other shift operator lead and the payload crew can understand it. . . . There were several times we did use the language during the flight, they asked for German, and it all worked real well. In fact, one case, I think it was national pride. Somebody wanted to talk to Wubbo [Ockels]—he was from the Netherlands—and they wanted to speak Dutch. Somebody insisted they had this urgent thing, and a friend of mine that spoke Dutch said, “You know what the guy wanted to do? He wanted to say, ‘Hello, Wubbo, how’s it going?”’
Hartsfield recalled a conversation with West German mission manager Han – sulrich Steimle, whom he described as “a very interesting fellow” who “liked to philosophize.” During preparation for the mission, the two became friends and would discuss cultural differences between the two countries. “He says, ‘You know, in the United States, when a new policy comes down, the Americans, they look at this and say, ‘Okay, here’s what we’ve got to do,’ and they salute and go do it. He says, ‘In Germany, when a new policy comes down, we study it very carefully, and decide how we can continue to do what we’re doing under this new policy.’ I thought, ‘Boy, is that ever true.’ I know some people in the United States that do that, too, you know. I worked with some of them.”
The multinational nature of the crew popped up in various and interesting ways, from the larger issues that led to the “delicate negotiations” to more trivial and potentially amusing incidents, Hartsfield recalled.
We were training in Building 5 [at Johnson Space Center], and once we went into quarantine,… we had to use the back door, and they issued keys to us. The keys had two letters and a number on it that identified that particular key. . . . Well, when we issued the keys, Ernst [Messerschmid, one of the German astronauts] came to me, and he was pulling my chain, because he’s a wonderful personality, he said, “Is there any significance to the fact that I got a key with ss on it?” [“ss ” was the abbreviation for the Schutzstaffel, an official Nazi paramilitary organization during World War II.] So we got a big laugh out of it. He did. “No,” I said, “it’s the luck of the draw.”
The mission was the first to be partly directed from outside the United States. Germany had built its own control center in Oberphaffenhofen, southwest of Munich. Yet another of the interesting cultural differences came to light during a visit by the crew to the control center during mission preparations. “They had an integrated sim, the first one they’d run, and the whole payload crew was over there working in the simulator and doing this sim to get their controllers up to speed,” Hartsfield recalled.
Well, they were also filming a documentary on how Germany was preparing for this thing, and so there were camera crews walking around in their control center taking pictures, and it got to be lunchtime. Things are different in Germany, you know, about drinking. To have wine and beer at lunch is a common thing. Well, in the basement of the control center, like in a lot of German businesses, they’ve got machines like Coke machines, but it’s a beer machine. The flight controllers had all gone down and got a beer, and here is this crew, all of them got a beer, sitting on the console, and eating lunch. I called Hansulrich Steimle, and I said, “Hansulrich, I know how things are here in Germany, but you’re filming for posterity here. ” I said, “If this film goes outside of Germany, some people may not understand your flight controllers drinking on duty. ” Then I became very unpopular, because some of them knew that I had said something, because he made them put their beer away.
The cultural differences were particularly an issue during mission preparations for Bonnie Dunbar, the only female member of the crew. As the two nasa mission specialists, she and Guy Bluford were sent over early to begin training in West Germany.
When I showed up there was a lot of discussion about both of us, but, with respect to me, they were very concerned that I had been assigned to the flight, because their medical experiment wasn’t intended to include female blood. They thought that would ruin their statistics. . . . I was actually told in front of my face—and I have to first of all qualify that I’ve become very good friends with all these people; but any time you’re at the point of the pathfinder, there’s going to be things happening—I was told that maybe NASA had done this intentionally to offend the Germans by assigning a woman.
As they started to work through that, it came to light that some of the experiments on the mission, such as the vestibular sled experiment, did not fit her, and the Germans began saying they were going to need for her to be replaced. This was Dunbar’s first flight assignment, and she began to worry that she would lose her seat. “At that time Dr. Joe Kerwin was head of Space and Life Sciences. . . . He actually wrote a memo for the record and to dfvlr [Deutsche Forschungs Versuchsanstat fur Luft und Raumfahrt, the German Aerospace Research Establishment] stating that all equipment should be designed to this percentile spread. So they stood by [me].”
However, Dunbar also had many positive experiences working with the West Germans in preparation for the mission and enjoyed their excitement about it. She began working with the Germans during preparations for the first Spacelab flight, and she said it was fun to see the atmosphere there during their entry into working with human-rated vehicles.
When I went over there, it was a very exciting time for them. The Bundestag had become involved in this, which is their legislative government. At that time the seat of government in [West] Germany was in Bonn, and were training in Bonn/Cologne. So it wasn’t unusual for our two German astronauts, Ernst Messerschmid and Reinhard Furrer, to have lunch with what we’d call a senator. There was just a lot of interest. The mission manager at that time told me that they hoped to use this mission not only to advance their science and human spaceflight but to inspire a generation of young people in Germany that really hadn’t had inspiration since the war, and they lost the war. So this had very much a political flavor to it, not just a scientific flavor to it.
According to Dunbar, the German astronauts were great to work with, and it was very interesting being around them in West Germany, where they had a respected, heroic status.
Actually, it was fun to talk to them, because in Germany they very much occupied an Original [Mercury] Seven status, and so it was always interesting to hear from their perspective and see what they were doing, how the program was being received. It’s changing now, but there’s still a lot of dichotomy, even in Germany, about the value ofhuman spaceflight, even though they’re a major partner in esa [the European Space Agency] and in the Space Station, because there would be one or two ministers that would vocally try to kill the program, and so we were interested in working with them and helping them.
Hartsfield recalled several highlights of 61A once the preparations were complete and the flight was finally underway. “I would say it was probably the most diverse mission ever flown,” Hartsfield asserted.
We had a black, a woman, two Germans, a Dutchman, and a marine. I mean, how diverse can you get, you know? And there was some funny things happened. We launched on October 30, and of course, October 31 was Halloween. So I took a back off one of the ascent checklists we weren’t going to use anymore, and I drew a face on it, cut out eyeholes, got some string, and I made myself a mask. I took one of the stowage bags and went trick-or-treating back in the lab. Of course, they don’t do Halloween in Germany, or Europe, so they didn’t know what I was up to. I decided not to pull any tricks on them, but I didn’t get much in my bag. But somebody took a picture. One of the guys took a picture of me with that mask on, holding that bag, and somehow that picture got released back in the U. S. About a month after the flight, I got a letter from NASA headquarters. Actually, the letter had come from a congressman who had a complaint from one of his constituents about her tax money being spent to buy toys for astronauts. She was very upset. So it was sent to me to answer, and I had to explain, hey, nothing was done, and it was made in flight from material we didn’t need anymore. It was just fun. I never heard any more, so I think maybe that satisfied her. She had the notion that we had bought this mask and bag and stuff just to do Halloween.
Another amusing anecdote Hartsfield recalled involved Bluford.
Steve [Nagel] and I were up on the flight deck. All of a sudden, we heard this bang, bang, bang! It sounded like somebody was tearing up the mid-deck. We peeked our heads down in the hole on the side where the bunks were. About that time we saw the bottom bunk come open, and the top one. Bonnie is sticking her head out looking up and Ernst is looking down, and all this banging is going [on] in this little bunk. So they slide Guy’s door open to his bunk, and he kind of looks around, “Oh," and he pulls it back shut and goes back to sleep…. Apparently, he had awakened and didn’t know where he was. He had a little claustrophobia or something, and he was completely disoriented, you know. But when he finally saw where he was, he said, “Okay," and he went back to sleep.
Hartsfield also recalled the crew flying through a mysterious cloud of particles during orbit. “Steve was up on the flight deck with Buckley, and they yelled back at me, ‘Hey, Hank, get up on the flight deck.’ And I got up there and looked out the window, and there was these little light things, bouncing off the windscreen. At first I couldn’t tell how fast they were going. Zoom! Zoom! They looked like they were going real fast. And I said, well, it can’t be that fast, and couldn’t be massive, because they aren’t breaking the window or anything. We were down close to Antarctica, at the southernmost point of our orbit.”
For the duration of the mission, the crew had no idea what was causing the phenomenon. In fact, according to Hartsfield, answers didn’t come until after the landing, when engineers looked at the orbiter’s front windows. “When the solids [separated during launch], it would coat the windscreen. When those little things hit it, it was cleaning the windscreen. Those spots just took the grease right off of it. When we got back, we found out it was water. We had done a water dump on the previous rev. And we didn’t realize it, but all of that turned into ice particles. And then we flew through it. It was weird. We were looking at the window, zoom zoom zoom. It would hit the windows and bounce off, and you’re wondering what the hell it was.”