Christening the fleet

Space ShuttleAfter several years of referring to the various Space Shuttle orbiters both under construction and in planning by numbers, NASA bestows names upon the anticipated fleet of four orbiters. OV-102, which is still expected to fly “late this year”, is named Columbia, while OV-099, undergoing conversion from a test article to flight-worthy vehicle, is named Challenger. Orbiters 103 and 104 will be named, respectively, Discovery and Atlantis; all four names are drawn from historical seafaring exploration vessels. (NASA has also used some of the names before: Columbia was the name of the moon-orbiting command module in the Apollo 11 mission, while Apollo 17’s lunar lander was named Challenger.)

Discovery under construction

DiscoveryWith NASA anticipating ramping up its launch schedule to more than one shuttle flight per month to meet demand for the vehicle’s unique satellite deployment and retrieval capabilities, construction begins on the third orbiter intended for spaceflight, Space Shuttle Discovery. Construction and checking of the third shuttle takes almost exactly four years, with Discovery’s first liftoff about a year later.

STS-41D: Discovery’s debut

DiscoverySpace Shuttle Discovery makes its first flight into space on a mission to deploy three commercial communications satellites. Tested on this flight is a huge solar power panel which unfolds vertically from Discovery’s cargo bay, testing technology for space station designs still on the drawing board. Discovery’s crew for this flight consists of Commander Henry Hartsfield, Pilot Michael Coats, mission specialists Judy Resnick, Steven Hawley, Mike Mullane, and payload specialist Charles Walker.


DiscoverySpace Shuttle Discovery takes off on a week-long satellite deployment mission, delivering a Canadian communications satellite and another American SYNCOM defense communications satellite into orbit. Using the MMU jet packs, Discovery’s crew retrieve two satellites placed into the wrong orbits by malfunctioning boosters after a shuttle mission earlier in the year, returning them to the cargo bay for return to Earth. Discovery’s crew consists of Commander Frederick Hauck, Pilot David Walker, and mission specialists Anna Fisher, Dale Gardner, and Joseph Allen.


DiscoverySpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off on the shortest shuttle flight since the 1981 test flights, lasting only three days. A classified Defense Department payload is delivered to orbit, with the help of the first Inertial Upper Stage booster developed by the U.S. Air Force. This mission is the first time that shuttles had to be swapped out prior to flight – thermal tile issues on Challenger prevented that shuttle from being used for this mission – as well as the first instance of a shuttle launch scrubbed because of concerns over freezing weather and ice at the launch site. Discovery returns via the Kennedy Space Center runway, with Commander Ken Mattingly, Pilot Loren Shriver, mission specialists Ellison Onizuka and James Buchli, and payload specialist Gary Payton aboard.


DiscoveryAfter a month of delays due to damage and a change in the flight schedule, Space Shuttle Discovery returns to orbit for a week-long flight. A Canadian communications satellite and the LEASAT-3 satellite are redeployed, but LEASAT continues to malfunction despite multiple attempts to active and launch it. Discovery’s crew on this flight consists of Commander Karol Bobko, Pilot Donald Williams, mission specialists Rhea Seddon, Jeffrey Hoffman and David Griggs, and payload specialists Charles Walker and Senator Jake Garn, the first member of the U.S. Congress to fly in space while in office. This flight’s return to the runway at Kennedy Space Center marks the first time a shuttle orbiter experiences significant damage upon landing, including a blowout of one of its landing gear wheels.


DiscoverySpace Shuttle Discovery returns to orbit for a week-long flight including the deployment of three communications satellites. American, Mexican and Saudi Arabian satellites are launched via payload assist modules. Discovery crew consists of Commander Daniel Brandenstein, Pilot John Creighton, mission specialists Shannon Lucid, John Fabian and Steven Nagel, and payload specialists Patrick Baudry and Sultan Salman Al-Saud (the first Saudi Arabian national to fly in space).


Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off on a mission to deliver three communications satellites to orbit. The triple payload includes SYNCOM IV-4, the Australian AUSSAT-1 satellite, and American Satellite Company’s ASC-1. Discovery is manned on this mission by Commander Joe Engle, Pilot Richard Covey, and mission specialists James van Hoften, John Lounge and William Fisher. The mission lasts one week, and Discovery is able to return home a day early after achieving mission objectives ahead of time.


DiscoveryThe first Space Shuttle launch in over two years since the Challenger accident, Discovery lifts off on a flight to test improved safety systems and procedures. The shuttle’s major payload is the second TDRS (Tracking & Data Relay Satellite) launched by NASA (an identical satellite was lost in the Challenger explosion in 1986), as well as numerous smaller experiments. Problems with Discovery’s environmental system cause the crew cabin to be warmer than usual. Discovery’s crew for this flight consists of Commander Fred Hauck, Pilot Richard Covey, and mission specialists John Lounge, George Nelson, and David Hilmers.


DiscoverySpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off on a nearly-five-day mission to take NASA’s third TDRS (Tracking & Data Relay Satellite) into orbit, among other smaller experiment packages, including IMAX filming. Aboard Discovery for the first shuttle flight of 1989 are Commander Michael Coats, Pilot John Blaha, and mission specialists James Bagian, James Buchli, and Robert Springer.


DiscoverySpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off on 1989’s fifth and final shuttle launch, delivering a classified Defense Department payload into orbit on a five-day mission. Aboard Discovery are Commander Frederick Gregory, Pilot John Blaha, and mission specialists Story Musgrave, Manley Carter, and Kathryn Thornton.

STS-31: launching Hubble

Space ShuttleIn the planning stages since the 1970s, and delayed by the post-Challenger-disaster downtime for the shuttle program, the Hubble Space Telescope is finally lifted into orbit aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. Hubble is just one of the scientific payloads for the five-day flight, with other experiments being conducted in the crew cabin and the cargo bay. Discovery’s crew for this flight is Commander Loren Shriver, Pilot Charles Bolden, and mission specialists Steven Hawley, Bruce McCandless and Kathryn Sullivan.


Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off to deliver another space probe whose launch has been delayed in recent years, the Ulysses mission. The remnant of a more elaborate (but ultimately scrapped) International Solar Polar mission, Ulysses is the first and only shuttle payload to use a two-stage booster to launch it from Earth orbit into a high, looping trajectory out of the plane of the ecliptic (roughly corresponding to the sun’s equator, around which the solar system’s planets orbit). Ulysses, built and managed by the European Space Agency, promises the first views of the sun’s polar regions. Discovery’s crew is Commander Richard N. Richards, Pilot Robert Cabana, and mission specialists William Shepherd, Bruce Melnick and Thomas Akers. Discovery lands at Edwards Air Force Base after four days in orbit.


Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off on an eight-day mission to delivery both classified and unclassified Defense Department payloads into Earth orbit. Aboard the shuttle for this flight are Commander Michael Coats, Pilot Blaine Hammond, and mission specialists Guion Bluford, Gregory Harbaugh, Richard Hieb, Donald McMonagle and Charles Veach.


Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off on a five-day mission to deliver the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) into a low Earth orbit, where the satellite spends over a year studying the outer layers of Earth’s atmosphere. UARS also focuses on study of Earth’s ozone layer. Other experiments are carried out aboard the orbiter by Commander John Creighton, Pilot Kenneth Reightler, , and mission specialists Mark Brown, Charles Gemar and James Buchli.


Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off for an eight day Spacelab mission, with an multi-national crew participating in “IML-1” (International Microgravity Laboratory) experiments. Discovery’s crew for this flight consists of Commander Ronald Grabe, Pilot Stephen Oswald, mission specialists Norman Thagard, David Hilmers, and William Readdy, and payload specialists Roberta Bondar and Ulf Merbold.


STS-53Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off on the 52nd shuttle flight, a seven-day mission to deploy a classified Department of Defense payload and conduct various science experiments within the shuttle itself. Flying Discovery on its 15th launch are Commander David Walker, Pilot Robert Cabana, and mission specialists Guion Bluford, James Voss and Michael Clifford.


STS-56Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off with the ATLAS-2 scientific payload for a nine-day mission. A free-floating platform to measure solar wind activity is also deployed and then retrieved before returning to Earth. Aboard Discovery for her 16th flight are Commander Kenneth Cameron, Pilot Stephen Oswald, and mission specialists Michael Foale, Kenneth Cockrell and Ellen Ochoa.


Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off on the 57th shuttle mission, a nine-day stay in orbit to release a communications satellite and test a new second stage engine designed to push that satellite into geosynchronous orbit. A free-floating ultraviolet spectography experiment is released from the shuttle’s cargo bay and retrieved before the end of the mission, and spacewalking techniques for the upcoming Hubble Space Telescope repair mission are practiced. Aboard Discovery for her 17th flight are Commander Frank Culbertson Jr., Pilot William Readdy, and mission specialists James Newman, Daniel Bursch and Carl Walz.


Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off on the 60th flight of the shuttle program. During its eight days in orbit, Discovery hosts the first Russian cosmonaut ever to fly aboard an American spacecraft, initiating an ongoing agreement between the two countries’ space agencies that will eventually lead to shuttles visiting Mir and the construction of the International Space Station. Aboard Discovery for her 18th flight are Commander Charles Bolden, Pilot Kenneth Reightler, and mission specialists Jan Davis, Ronald Sega, Franklin Chang-Diaz and Sergei Krikalev.


Space ShuttleNASA launches Space Shuttle Discovery on the 64th flight of the shuttle program. The cargo bay carries an experiment to test LIDAR applications from orbit, and is the site of a six-hour spacewalk to test an alternative to the retired MMU “jet pack” for EVA rescue purposes. Aboard Discovery for her 19th mission are Commander Richard Richards, Pilot Blaine Hammond, and mission specialists Jerry Linenger, Susan Helms, Carl Meade and Mark Lee.

STS-63: the shuttle visits Mir

Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off on the 67th flight of the shuttle program, a history-making mission that sees Discovery conducting rendezvous maneuvers at the Russian space station Mir. Though the shuttle isn’t equipped to dock at Mir, the close flyby is a necessary step before a docking mission can take place, and Discovery’s crew includes a former Mir cosmonaut. The crew for this flight is Commander James Wetherbee, Pilot Eileen M. Collins, and mission Specialists Michael Foale, Janice Voss, Bernard Harris and Vladimar Titov.


Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off on the 70th shuttle flight, a nine-day mission to deploy a TDRS (Tracking & Data Relay Satellite) for NASA. The flight has seen many delays, including repairs made necessary by woodpeckers poking holes in the shuttle’s external fuel tank! The crew – consisting of Commander Terence Henricks, Pilot Kevin Kregel, and mission specialists Nancy Jane Currie, Donald Thomas and Mary Ellen Weber – conducts material and medical experiments after the deployment of the final satellite in the TDRS constellation.

STS-82: back to Hubble

Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off on a ten-day mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Over 30 hours of spacewalks are conducted to repair and upgrade Hubble with new parts, and the shuttle engines are fired in short, steady bursts to raise the telescope’s orbit by over eight miles before it is released again. Aboard Discovery on her 22nd flight are Commander Kenneth Bowersox, Pilot Scott Horowitz, and mission specialists Mark Lee, Steven Hawley, Gregory Harbaugh, Steven Smith and Joseph Tanner.


Space ShuttleNASA launches Space Shuttle Discovery on the 86th shuttle flight, a 12-day mission to deploy a spectroscopy experiment and practice spacewalking construction techniques vital to the upcoming early missions to build the International Space Station. Aboard Discovery for her 23rd flight are Commander Curtis Brown, Pilot Kent Rominger, mission specialists Jan Davis, Robert Curbeam and Stephen Robinson, and payload specialist Bjarni Tryggvason.