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Choice morsels discovered and misplaced stories recalled about American and Russian space shuttles...

Shuttle Maiden Flights
Columbia1981 April 12
Challenger1983 April 4
Discovery1984 August 30
Atlantis1985 October 3
Endeavour1992 May 7
Hurtling upward to space

All U.S. space shuttle flights have been launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

U.S. shuttles have made numerous night launches. The earliest were Challenger in August 1983, Atlantis in November 1985, Discovery in November 1989 and Atlantis in February 1990.

Columbia in June 1982 was the first shuttle to carry a secret military payload. Discovery in January 1985 was the first completely secret military flight. Atlantis in November 1990 was the last completely secret military shuttle payload.     [History of All Space Shuttle Flights by Year]

Shuttling through space...

Space shuttle astronauts have to keep track of 5,000 loose items such as photo equipment, supplies, food, tools, hygiene materials, payload parts and spares.
    The first planned spacewalk from a shuttle had to be cancelled in November 1982 when spacesuits malfunctioned.
Discovery astronauts ate a Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce in orbit in November 1989.
    Ulf Merbold from West Germany was the first non-American to go to space in a U.S. craft.
Civilian astronomers Ronald A. Parise, and Samuel T. Durrance used ultraviolet and X-ray telescopes aboard Columbia in December 1990 to study quasars, pulsars, black holes, galaxies, and high-energy stars.
    Sonny Carter lost his watch somewhere inside shuttle Discovery while orbiting in November 1989. Five months later, during Discovery's April 1990 trip to space, Loren Shriver found it.
Civilian physicist Kathryn C. Thornton, aboard Discovery in 1989, was the first female astronaut assigned to a secret military mission.
    Shuttle Discovery carried 32 fertilized chicken eggs to orbit in 1989.
Columbia astronaut Owen K. Garriott made the first amateur radio contacts from a space shuttle with hams on Earth in November 1983. Challenger astronaut Tony England did it again in July 1985. Columbia astronaut Ronald A. Parise made more contacts in December 1990. Today, such personal chats are routine.
    Houston shared mission control with the West German Space Operations Center at Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich during the flight of Challenger in October and November 1985.
Columbia, NASA's oldest space shuttle, made two trips to space in 1981, three in 1982, one in 1983, and one in 1986 just 16 days before the Challenger explosion. After the disaster, Columbia was refurbished to fly again in 1989.

Space shuttle landing Landing the shuttle

The second space shuttle flight had to land early after only two days in space when a fuel cell failed in orbit.

The third shuttle flight was the only space shuttle to land in New Mexico. The orbiter Columbia landed at White Sands in March 1982.

In the early days, most space shuttles landed in California. The first seven to land at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, were Challenger in February 1984, Challenger October 1984, Discovery November 1984, Discovery January 1985, Discovery April 1985, Atlantis November 1990, and Discovery May 1991.

Weather and computer problems in January 1990 forced the crew of shuttle Columbia to extend their stay in orbit to 10 days 21 hours. That was half a day longer than any previous mission up to that time.

When shuttle Columbia flew in space for almost nine days in December 1990 it still was only the 15th longest U.S. space mission and the third longest shuttle flight. Longer shuttle flights had been made previously by Columbia -- 10 days in November 1983 and nearly 11 days in January 1990. Other longer flights were Gemini 7 in 1965, Apollo 7, 9, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 from 1968 to 1972, all three Skylab missions in 1973-74, and the joint U.S.-USSR Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.

Maytag repairmen in space

The Hubble Space Telescope, which turned out to have blurry vision after launch in 1990, was fitted with eye glasses when astronaut repairmen visited the satellite in a 1994 shuttle flight.

The Challenger Seven
January 28, 1986
Francis R. "Dick" Scobee
Michael J. Smith
Judith A. Resnik
Ellison S. Onizuka
Ronald E. McNair
Gregory B. Jarvis
Sharon Christa McAuliffe
The Challenger disaster

Seven astronauts were aboard Challenger flight STS-51L, later renumbered STS-25, when it exploded during liftoff on January 28, 1986. Christa McAuliffe was a Concord, New Hampshire, high school social studies teacher. She and the other six were killed when a solid-fuel booster rocket leak led to a massive liquid-fuel tank explosion during lift off from a Cape Canaveral launch pad.

Millions of American students were watching television in classrooms as Challenger exploded. They had been planning to participate in lessons teacher Christa McAuliffe was to have taught by TV from orbit. Later, people around the world watched the accident replayed from NASA videotape as mission control reported at one minute thirteen seconds into liftoff from the pad, "Obviously a major malfunction. We have no downlink. The vehicle has exploded."

NASA's TDRS-B communications satellite also was lost in the Challenger explosion January 28, 1986.

Challenger's Nine Distinguished Flights
First American women in spaceSally Ride
First black man in spaceGuion S. Bluford Jr.
First shuttle spacewalkDonald Peterson
Story Musgrave
First American female spacewalkKathryn Sullivan
First untethered spacewalkRobert Stewart
Bruce McCandless
First satellite repair in orbitPinky Nelson
Ox Van Hoften
First Coke and Pepsi in orbit1985
Challenger's Tragic Tenth Flight
First persons to die enroute to space
First Americans to die during a spaceflight
It took NASA 975 days to recover from the Challenger explosion on January 28, 1986. The next flight was Discovery, which was launched on September 28, 1988.

After the Challenger disaster, NASA's three remaining shuttles -- Atlantis, Discovery and Columbia -- were rebuilt extensively, each with more than 250 modifications improving safety and performance. Columbia was cannibalized for spare parts to get Discovery and Atlantis to space in 1988. Then Columbia was refurbished and launched in 1989.

The Russian space station Mir was launched in 1986, just 23 days after the fatal explosion of U.S. shuttle Challenger.

After the Challenger disaster in 1986, an outpouring of national emotion supported the allocation of federal funds to build a replacement orbiter. Even then, some scientists and politicians continued to argue against manned spaceflights, forcing NASA to choose between shuttles and space stations vs. unmanned interplanetary probes and orbiting astronomy observatories. However, work was started immediately on a replacement orbiter.

NASA needed a name for the new shuttle after the name Challenger was retired in honor of the dead astronauts. The agency wanted to continue the tradition of naming orbiters for the ships of famous explorers. Directed by Congress to do so, NASA let American students choose the name. Elementary and secondary students in public and private schools in the United States and territories, Department of Defense overseas dependents schools and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools entered the competition. More than 6,100 teams, including 71,650 students, researched name choices. Each state, territory and agency announced a winner. Sailing ships of Capt. James Cook, the 18th-century British explorer, turned out to be most popular among American children. Thirty-one of 111 state winners wanted the new shuttle to be named Endeavour, although some used the American spelling Endeavor. NASA decided the final winner and announced the name in 1989 -- Endeavour. The new Endeavour flew in 1992.

Seven asteroids in Outer Space were named for the Challenger astronauts who were lost in a 1986 launch.

The Columbia Seven
February 1, 2003
Rick D. Husband
William C. McCool
Michael P. Anderson
David M. Brown
Kalpana Chawla
Laurel Clark
Ilan Ramon
The Columbia disaster

Seven astronauts were aboard Columbia flight STS-107 when it broke up 200,000 feet over Texas about 9 a.m. EST on Feb. 1, 2003, as it descended from orbit toward a landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The astronauts were lost in the disaster. Columbia, the oldest shuttle in the fleet of four, was to have landed at 9:16 a.m. EST at Kennedy Space Center.

Video of the shuttle over Dallas showed multiple vapor trails as the spacecraft broke apart. Debris was strewn across a wide area from southeastern Texas into Louisiana. Nacogdoches, Texas, police found pieces of debris inside the city limits and in the surrounding county.

Aboard the shuttle were commander Rick D. Husband, 45; pilot William C. McCool, 40; payload commander Michael P. Anderson, 42; mission specialists David M. Brown, 46; Kalpana Chawla 41; and Laurel Clark, 41; and Israel's first astronaut, payload specialist Ilan Ramon, 47. Ramon had been a national hero in Israel for taking part in the 1981 bombing of a nuclear reactor in Iraq.

Some Notable Columbia Space Flights
First-ever shuttle spaceflightJohn Young
Robert Crippen
First spaceplane to
land on a runway
John Young
Robert Crippen
First flight of Spacelab1981-82
First extended-duration shuttle flight1992
Ferried Chandra X-Ray Observatory
to orbit
Hubble Space Telescope
Servicing Mission
First female shuttle commanderEileen Collins
First time a dozen were
in orbit at the same time
12 astronauts
and cosmonauts
First non-American to
fly in a U.S. craft
Ulf Merbold
First dress shirt and tie in spaceJeffrey Hoffman
First ham radio chat from spaceOwen Garriott
First all-ham shuttle crewKenneth Cameron
Jay Apt
Linda Godwin
Steven Nagel
Jerry Ross
First Americans to die
enroute home from space
Rick D. Husband
William C. McCool
Michael P. Anderson
David M. Brown
Kalpana Chawla
Laurel Clark
Ilan Ramon
Shuttle health and medical concerns

Shuttle Discovery commander Frederick D. Gregory suffered a foot infection in orbit in November 1989.
    The Atlantis flight in February 1990 was the second American spaceflight health delay after Apollo 9 which was delayed four days in 1968 when the crew came down with a respiratory illness.
Edwards in the Mojave

Edwards Air Force base, the second-largest Air Force base in the continental U.S. encompassing 300,000 acres of the Mojave Desert, is home to the famed Flight Test Center whose pilots were glorified in Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff. Space shuttles have landed there.
    Should a U.S. space shuttle need to land at night in California, the concrete runway at Edwards Air Force Base is illuminated by six 800-million-candlepower searchlights.
Space shuttles create twin sonic booms as they streak across the California coast to touch down on the desert landing site at Edwards Air Force Base.
    Brakes overheated but no landing problems turned up in January 1990 at Edwards Air Force Base, California, despite the heavy cargo of the rescued 11-ton LDEF satellite which pushed shuttle Columbia landing weight to 228,400 pounds, 8,000 pounds heavier than any previous.
The expanding population of Antelope Valley is busy pumping out ground-water, causing the dry lakebed runways where space shuttles land at Edwards Air Force Base, California, to crack and sink. The Edwards water table dropped from 10 feet underground in 1948 to 100 feet below the surface in 1989. The floor of Rogers Dry Lake has subsided three feet in some places and cracked into fissures up to 3 feet wide, 2 feet deep and hundreds of feet long. The only way shuttles can keep using the clay runways is by having the cracks filled.

Building a better coffee pot

Astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz applied American ingenuity to space shuttle coffee, inventing a pot which brews a cup of java in 45 seconds, uses fewer beans and creates less mess in a weightless galley.

Junkyard wing

A brand-new piece of shuttle Discovery's wing worth $304,000 was shipped to a Kennedy Space Center junkyard in 1992. NASA worker Brooks Humphrys, who helped operate the landfills that dot the space center, was searching the junkyard for recyclable materials when he uncovered the 18-in. 60-lb. wing part. The piece was supposed to be one of 22 on the orbiter wing leading edge. They keep the spaceship from burning up during reentry by withstanding temperatures of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
    The wing piece was sealed in a wooden crate that was discarded during a clean-up for an annual open house. Workers had placed the crate outside Discovery's hangar with empty crates. Other workers picked up the crates and took them to a landfill on the east end of Schwartz Road at Kennedy Space Center.
Humphrys noticed the crate appeared too new so he pried it open and saw something wrapped in packing material. He called persons named on the labels. Workers picked up the panel and returned it to the orbiter processing facility. Today, boxes to be recycled or thrown away are marked full or empty and the space center landfills require that lids be removed from containers before waste is accepted.

The Enterprise

The Smithsonian Institution annex to the popular National Air and Space Museum at Virginia's Dulles International Airport houses big aviation artifacts such as the prototype space shuttle Enterprise and a supersonic Concorde donated by France. Shuttle Enterprise was a test craft that never flew in space.

The single snowstorm

The USSR space shuttle Buran flew unmanned on its maiden voyage November 15, 1988. The new Energia rocket ferried the new shuttle successfully to two orbits and a picture-perfect automated landing. Buran means snowstorm in Russian. It only flew once and then it was unmanned. The combo rocket-shuttle project, known as the Energia-Buran Reusable Space System (MKS), was developed to compete with the U.S. space shuttle system.


The USSR's then-new super rocket Energia may have been the world's most powerful space launcher. Weighing 4.4 million lbs., it developed 6.6 million lbs. of thrust and could carry 220,000 lbs. to orbit. That was said to have been 10 tons more than the U.S. Saturn 5 which had sent men to the Moon in 1969-72 and had lofted the American space station Skylab in 1973. Saturn had lifted some 270,000 pounds when it launched Skylab into low earth orbit (LEO). The U.S. abandoned Saturn 5 in 1973. Carrying 110 tons to orbit, Energia tripled the lifting ability of the U.S. space shuttle. Energia could lift payloads five times heavier than payloads carried by Proton, the Soviet Union's second most powerful rocket. There were reports that the Energia rocket weighed more than planned by its designers, which would have decreased its payload capacity. At any rate, the Soviet Union disintegrated and the Energia rocket never flew again after the one Buran shuttle flight.


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