Fifteen Years Apart: Apollo 6 and STS-6

Forty-five years ago today — April 4, 1968 — the final qualification flight of the Saturn V launch vehicle and the Apollo spacecraft launched from the Kennedy Space Center.

(Apollo 6 launch. NASA image.)

Apollo 6 consisted of a complete three-stage Saturn V, a Command and Service Module, and a “boilerplate” or “pathfinder” Lunar Module. The mission encountered several major problems:

Two minutes and five seconds after launch, the Saturn V structure underwent a severe pogo oscillation, without damage to the spacecraft structure. Due to a manufacturing flaw and unrelated to the pogo oscillations, structural panels were lost from the lunar module adapter. Finally, after the completion of first stage firing and part way through the second stage burn, two of the five second stage J-2 engines shut down prematurely. The planned 175 km circular Earth orbit was not achieved, instead, after completion of the third stage burn, the spacecraft was in a 172.1 x 223.1 km, 89.8 min orbit. After two orbits, the third stage failed to reignite as planned, so the Service Module propulsion system was used to boost the spacecraft to an apogee of 22,225.4 km, from which the planned lunar reentry simulation took place at 36,025 km/hr, slightly less than the planned velocity of 40,000 km/hr. The Command Module splashed down 80 km off target 9 hr 50 min after launch and was recovered in good condition.

Fifteen years later, on April 4, 1983, the Space Shuttle Challenger launched from the Kennedy Space Center on its first flight, mission STS-6. Astronauts Paul J. Weitz, Karol J. Bobko, Donald H. Peterson and Story F. Musgrave spent 5 days in space and deployed the first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite.

The STS-6 mission was not without its problems. The Inertial Upper Stage placed TDRS-1 in the wrong orbit, and later the satellite’s own thrusters were used to put it into the correct orbit (much like the service module’s thrusters being used on Apollo 6, and some recent spacecraft which have been recovered by judicious use of on-board propulsion). Nevertheless, the overall STS-6 mission was successful and featured the first spacewalk from a Shuttle.

Looking back at these two launches, it seems our space exploits have regressed instead of progressed. Given 10 years between Explorer 1 and Apollo 6, and 15 years between Apollo 6 and STS-6, and 30 years since then, you might think that we should have a colony on Mars by now. So this image of Challenger rolling out in the fog seems apt:

(STS-6 rollout to pad 39A, in the fog. NASA image.)

Here’s hoping we soon catch up to the future!

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Making the ISS More International

Five years ago today — March 11, 2008 — the Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from the Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the International Space Station.

(Astronaut Richard Linnehan on the first spacewalk of STS-123. NASA image.)

The STS-123 crew included U.S. astronauts Dominic L. Gorie, Gregory H. Johnson, Robert L. Behnken, Michael J.Foreman, and Richard M. Linnehan, and Japanese astronaut Takao Doi. The mission transported astronaut Garrett E. Reisman to the ISS and brought French astronaut Leopold Eyharts back to Earth.

The mission also delivered the first piece of Japan’s Kibo research laboratory, and a new Canadian robotic arm known as “Dextre,” both of which were successfully attached to the ISS. In all, STS-123 spent a little over 2 weeks in space before landing back at KSC on March 26th.

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Columbus Rides Atlantis to Orbit

Five years ago today — February 7, 2008 — the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the International Space Station.

A view of the Columbus laboratory (top right) from STS 122, after the shuttle undocked from the ISS. NASA image.

STS 122  astronauts Stanley G. Love, Stephen N. Frick, Alan G. Poindexter, Leland D. Melvin, and Rex J. Walheim, with European Space Agency astronauts Hans Schlegel and Leopold Eyharts, spent almost two weeks in space. They installed the ESA’s Columbus laboratory on the ISS, along with several other pieces of equipment.

When they departed the space station, Eyharts stayed behind as the Flight Engineer while US astronaut Daniel Tani returned to Earth on the shuttle.

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Space History Triple Play: Apollo, Endeavour, Pioneer

First up: 45 years ago today — January 22, 1968 — a Saturn 1B launched the unmanned Apollo 5 mission from Cape Canaveral.

(Apollo 5 launch. NASA image.)

Apollo 5 was the first test flight of the Lunar Module (LM) ascent and descent stages. Once the LM was released into Earth orbit, its engines were fired in sequences that simulated a lunar approach and landing, including an abort scenario. Despite one premature shutdown of the descent propulsion system, the overall mission was considered a success.

Thirty years later — 15 years ago today — the Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from the Kennedy Space Center on mission STS-89. US astronauts Terrence W. Wilcutt, Joe F. Edwards, Jr., James F. Reilly, Michael P. Anderson, Bonnie J. Dunbar, and Andrew S.W. Thomas, along with Russian cosmonaut Salizhan S.Sharipov, docked with the Mir space station where Thomas replaced astronaut David Wolf.

Finally, on this date 10 years ago, we received the last signal from the Pioneer 10 spacecraft. On its 30-year mission (far exceeding its 21-month design life), Pioneer 10 visited Jupiter and explored the outer solar system. At the time of its last contact, the spacecraft “was 7.6 billion miles from Earth, or 82 times the nominal distance between the Sun and the Earth,” cruising in the general direction of Aldebaran.

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Shuttle Columbia's Last Liftoff

Ten years ago today — January 16, 2003 — the Space Shuttle Columbia launched from Kennedy Space Center on a mission that would end sixteen minutes too soon.

(STS-107 crew in-flight photo. NASA image.)

At the time the shuttle launched, we (by which I mean the public) thought the mission profile was nominal. The STS-107 crew — Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, Laurel B. S. Clark, and Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon — busied themselves with scientific investigations around the clock during their 15 days in space.

KSC landing was planned for Feb. 1 after a 16-day mission, but Columbia and crew were lost during reentry over East Texas at about 9 a.m. EST, 16 minutes prior to the scheduled touchdown at KSC. A seven-month investigation followed, including a four month search across Texas to recover debris. The search was headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, La. Nearly 85,000 pieces of orbiter debris were shipped to KSC and housed in the Columbia Debris Hangar near the Shuttle Landing Facility. The KSC debris reconstruction team identified pieces as to location on the orbiter, and determined damaged areas. About 38 percent of the orbiter Columbia was eventually recovered.

In perhaps a fitting tribute to the STS-107 crew, some of the science experiments were found during the debris recovery effort. While much of the data the astronauts gathered had been transmitted during flight to colleagues on the ground, the recovered experiments produced additional valuable information.

Visit the STS-107 memorial page for more information.

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A Space History First, AND a New NASA Communication Relay Satellite

Twenty years ago today — January 13, 1993 — the Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from the Kennedy Space Center carrying a new Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS).

(EVA-1 Crewmember Greg Harbaugh working in the Shuttle’s payload bay. NASA image.)

The STS-54 crew — John H. Casper, Donald R. McMonagle, Gregory J. Harbaugh, Mario Runco, and Susan J. Helms — spent almost six days in space. They deployed the fifth TDRS spacecraft during their first day in orbit; the TDRS’s Inertial Upper Stage maneuvered it into its higher operational orbit.

The crew spent their remaining time in space conducting a variety of experiments: they took spectrographic readings of X-ray sources with the Diffuse X-ray Spectrometer (DXS); studied biological systems under microcravity using the Commercial General Bioprocessing Apparatus (CGPA), the Chromosome and Plant Cell Division in Space Experiment (CHROMEX), and the Physiological and Anatomical Rodent Experiment (PARE); measured flame propagation in microgravity with the Solid Surface Combustion Experiment (SSCE); et cetera.

As for the space history “first” — on this mission, then-Major Helms became the first U.S. military woman to fly in space. Still on active duty in the USAF, she is now a Lieutenant General and the Commander of 14th Air Force at Vandenberg AFB.

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Final Classified DoD Shuttle Mission

Twenty years ago today — December 2, 1992 — the Space Shuttle Discovery launched from the Kennedy Space Center carrying … something.

(STS-53 crew. NASA image.)

STS-53 was the last classified Department of Defense mission for the shuttle fleet. Astronauts David M. Walker, Robert D. Cabana, Guion Bluford, Jr., James S. Voss, and Michael R. Clifford deployed the payload and conducted a series of experiments.

The names of the secondary payloads and the experiments on this mission are interesting — particularly the last three:

  • Orbital Debris Radar Calibration Spheres (ODERACS)
  • Shuttle Glow Experiment/Cryogenic Heat Pipe Experiment (GCP)
  • Microcapsules in Space (MIS-l)
  • Space Tissue Loss (STL)
  • Visual Function Tester (VFT-2)
  • Cosmic Radiation Effects and Activation Monitor (CREAM)
  • Radiation Monitoring Equipment (RME-III)
  • Fluid Acquisition and Resupply Experiment (FARE)
  • Hand-held, Earth-oriented, Real-time, Cooperative, User-friendly, Location-targeting and Environmental System (HERCULES)
  • Battlefield Laser Acquisition Sensor Test (BLAST)
  • Cloud Logic to Optimize Use of Defense Systems (CLOUDS)

After a week in space, the shuttle landed at Edwards AFB because of cloud cover at Kennedy.

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ISS Expansion, a Decade Ago

Ten years ago today — November 23, 2002 — the Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from the Kennedy Space Center en route to the International Space Station.

(The shuttle’s cargo bay during STS-113, with the limb of the earth providing the main illumination. NASA image.)

Mission STS-113 astronauts Paul Lockhart, James B. Wetherbee, Michael E. Lopez-Alegria, John B. Herrington, Kenneth B. Bowersox, and Donald R. Pettit, along with cosmonaut Nikolai M. Budarin, delivered and installed the P1 truss on the space station. This mission also exchanged the ISS Expedition Five crew — cosmonauts Valery Korzun and Sergei Treschev and astronaut Peggy Whitson — with the Expedition Six crew — Bowersox, Pettit and Budarin.

Also on this date, 35 years ago, the European Space Agency’s Meteosat 1 was launched from Cape Canaveral on a Delta rocket as part of the Global Atmospheric Research Program.

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Two Weeks of Microgravity Science

Fifteen years ago today — November 19, 1997 — the Space Shuttle Columbia launched from the Kennedy Space Center on the eighth shuttle flight of 1997.

(Shuttle Columbia in the Vehicle Assembly Building, prior to mission STS-87. NASA image.)

STS-87 carried U.S. astronauts Steven W. Lindsey, Kevin R. Kregel, Winston E. Scott, and Kalpana Chawla, Japanese astronaut Takao Doi, and Ukrainian cosmonaut Leonid K. Kadenyuk. The crew spent a little over 15-1/2 days in space, primarily operating the US Microgravity Payload on its fourth mission.

The crew also deployed the SPARTAN free-flying observatory, but problems with its attitude control system made it necessary to retrieve and stow it. During the retrieval operation, Doi became the first Japanese astronaut to complete a spacewalk.

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First Operational Shuttle Mission, 1982

A fine Veteran’s Day to you all …

Thirty years ago today — November 11, 1982 — the Space Shuttle Columbia launched from Kennedy Space Center on the first truly operational mission of the shuttle program.

(Satellite release from STS-5. NASA image.)

Mission STS-5 astronauts Vance D. Brand, Robert F. Overmyer, Joseph P. Allen, and William B. Lenoir carried two commercial communications satellites to orbit and released them from the shuttle’s payload bay. Both SBS 3, belonging to Satellite Business Systems, and Telesat Canada’s Anik C3 were successfully launched during the mission. The shuttle landed at Edwards Air Force Base five days after its launch.

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