Mark of the Shuttle Era: Satellite Capture Repair

Twenty years ago today — May 7, 1992 — Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from the Kennedy Space Center on a mission to rendezvous with the Intelsat VI satellite.

(Three mission specialists work on the Intelsat VI satellite. STS-49 marked the first three-astronaut EVA. NASA image.)

STS-49 was the maiden flight of Endeavour, and included astronauts Daniel C. Brandenstein, Kevin P. Chilton, Richard J. Hieb, Bruce E. Melnick, Pierre J. Thuot, Kathryn C. Thornton, and Thomas D. Akers. Their mission was to retrieve the Intelsat VI satellite, which had been stranded in orbit since March 1990, and install a perigee kick motor to boost it to geosynchronous orbit.

The capture required three EVAs: a planned one by astronaut Pierre J. Thuot and Richard J. Hieb who were unable to attach a capture bar to the satellite from a position on the [Remote Manipulator System]; a second unscheduled but identical attempt the following day; and finally an unscheduled but successful hand capture by Pierre J. Thuot and fellow crewmen Richard J. Hieb and Thomas D. Akers as Commander Daniel C. Brandenstein delicately maneuvered the orbiter to within a few feet of the 4.5 ton communications satellite. An [Assembly of Station by EVA Methods] structure was erected in the cargo bay by the crew to serve as a platform to aid in the hand capture and subsequent attachment of the capture bar.

In addition to being Endeavour‘s first flight, STS-49 included the first extravehicular activity with three astronauts outside the shuttle at the same time, was the first shuttle mission to feature four EVAs and the first time a live rocket motor was attached to an orbiting satellite, and featured the first use of a drag chute during a shuttle landing.

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