DISCOVERY Launches on First DoD Shuttle Mission

Twenty-five years ago today — January 24, 1985, the Space Shuttle Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Center on mission STS-51C.

(Launch of mission STS-51C. NASA image.)

The crew — Thomas K. Mattingly, Loren J. Shriver, Ellison S. Onizuka, James F. Buchli and Gary E. Payton — used an Air Force Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) booster to place a classified Department of Defense satellite in orbit, making this the first dedicated DoD mission.

Space enthusiasts will recognize some of those astronauts’ names. Many know that Ken Mattingly, for instance, was originally scheduled to fly on the Apollo-13 mission; he later flew as the Command Module pilot for Apollo-16 and the mission commander for STS-4, the fourth space shuttle orbital test flight. And many will recognize Ellison Onizuka as one of the astronauts who died in the Challenger explosion in 1986.

My personal connection to this flight, however, is Gary Payton. He’s been the Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space Programs since 2005, and I worked with him when I was writing speeches for the Under Secretary, Dr. Sega. I found Mr. Payton to be a terrific person, extremely smart and talented.

As I said in my retirement speech, if I couldn’t be an astronaut, at least I got to work with a few of them.

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