STS-8

STS-8
Mission Insignia
Mission statistics
Mission nameSTS-8
Space shuttleChallenger
Launch pad39-A
Launch dateAugust 30, 1983, 06:32:00 UTC
LandingSeptember 5, 1983, 07:40:43 UTC
Mission duration6d/01:08:43
Number of orbits98
Orbital altitude354 km
Orbital inclination28.5°
Distance traveled4,046,660 km
Crew photo
Seated (L-R): Daniel C. Brandenstein, Pilot, Richard H. Truly, Commander, and Guion S. Bluford, Jr., Mission Specialist. Standing (L-R): Dale A. Gardner, Mission Specialist, and William E. Thornton, Mission Specialist.
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STS-9

STS-8 was a Space Shuttle mission carried out in late 1983; it conducted the first night launch and night landing of the program, and flew the first African-American astronaut. The mission was a notable success, achieving all of its planned research objectives, but was marred by the subsequent discovery that a solid-fuel rocket booster had almost malfunctioned during the launch. It was the eighth Shuttle mission and the third flight of the shuttle Challenger.

The primary payload was INSAT-1B, an Indian communications and weather observation satellite, which was released by the orbiter and boosted into a geostationary orbit. The secondary payload, replacing a delayed NASA communications satellite, was a four-tonne dummy payload, intended to test the use of the remote manipulator system. Scientific experiments on board included the environmental testing of new hardware and materials designed for future spacecraft, the study of biological materials in electric fields under microgravity, and research into space adaptation syndrome - "space sickness". The flight also served as shakedown testing for the recently launched TDRS-1 satellite, which would be required to support the upcoming STS-9 mission.

Mission plan and payloads

INSAT-1B being prepared

An early plan for STS-8, released in April 1982, had scheduled it for July 1983. It was expected to be a three-day mission with four crew members, and would launch INSAT-1-B, an Indian satellite, and TDRS-B, a NASA communications relay satellite. However, following problems with the inertial upper stage (IUS) used to deploy TDRS-A on the STS-6 mission, it was announced in May 1983 that the TDRS was not going to be flown. It was replaced in the manifest by the Payload Flight Test Article. After re-development of the IUS, TDRS-B was eventually re-manifested for the STS-51-L mission, and was lost along with the spacecraft when the launch failed in January 1986.

The major element of the mission payload was INSAT-1B. It was the second in a series of multi-purpose weather and communications satellites to be operated by the Indian Space Research Organisation; the first, INSAT-1A, had been launched by a Delta rocket in April 1982, but had to be shut down shortly afterward after a failure of the onboard reaction control system. The satellite was carried in the rear of the cargo bay, and would be boosted into a geosynchronous transfer orbit by a Payload Assist Module (PAM-D), a small solid rocket upper stage, after its release from the orbiter. The satellite, with its upper stage, massed a total of 3,377 kg, with the cradle massing another 1,102 kg, and had cost around $50,000,000.

Payload Flight Test Article diagram

The Payload Flight Test Article (PFTA) had been scheduled for June 1984 on STS-16 in the April 1982 manifest, but by May 1983 had been brought forward to STS-11. That month, when the TRDS missions were delayed, it was brought forward to STS-8 to fill the hole in the manifest. It was an aluminum structure resembling two wheels with a six-meter long central axle, ballasted with lead to a total mass of 3,855 kg (8,500 lbs), which could be lifted by the Remote Manipulator System - the Shuttle's "robot arm" - and moved around to help gain experience in using the system. It was stored in the midsection of the payload bay.

The orbiter carried the Development Flight Instrumentation (DFI) pallet in its forward payload bay; this had previously flown on Columbia to carry test equipment. The pallet was not outfitted with any flight instrumentation, but was used to mount two experiments. The first studied the interaction of ambient atomic oxygen with structural materials of the orbiter and payload, whilst the second tested the performance of a heat pipe designed to be used in the heat rejection systems of future spacecraft.

Four Getaway Special payloads were carried. One studied the effects of cosmic rays on electronic equipment. The second studied the effect of the gas environment around the orbiter using ultraviolet absorption measurements, as a precursor to ultraviolet equipment being designed for Spacelab 2. A third, sponsored by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, tried to use water vapor in two tanks to create snow crystals. This was a second attempt at an experiment first flown on STS-6, which had had to be redesigned after the water in the tanks froze solid. The last was similar to an experiment flown on STS-3, and studied the ambient levels of atomic oxygen by measuring the rates at which small carbon and osmium wafers oxidized.

This cover was one of thousands brought on the mission and sold to the public after landing.

Finally, in cooperation with the US Postal Service, the mission also carried 260,000 postal covers franked with $9.35 express mail stamps, which were to be sold to collectors with the profits divided between the USPS and NASA. Two storage boxes were attached to the DFI pallet, with more stored in six of the Getaway Special canisters.

A number of other experiments were to be performed inside the orbiter crew compartment. Among these was the Continuous Flow Electrophoresis System, being flown for the fourth time. This separated solutions of biological materials by passing electric fields through them; the experiment aimed at supporting research into diabetes treatments. A small animal cage was flown containing six rats; no animal experiment was carried out on the flight, but a student involvement project was planned for a later mission which would use the cage, and NASA wanted to ensure it was flight-tested. The student involvement project carried out on STS-8 involved William Thornton using biofeedback techniques, to try to determine if they worked in microgravity. A photography experiment would attempt to study the spectrum of a luminous atmospheric glow which had been reported around the orbiter, and determine how this interacted with firings of the reaction control system.

The mission was also scheduled to carry out a series of tests with the TDRS-1 satellite which had been deployed by STS-6, to ensure the system was fully operational before it was used to support the Spacelab 1 program on the upcoming STS-9 flight. The orbiter also carried equipment to allow for encrypted transmissions, to be tested for use in future classified missions.

Crew

The mission had a crew of five, with three mission specialists. It was the second mission (after STS-7) to fly with a crew of five, the largest carried by a single spacecraft up to that date. The crew was historically notable for the participation of Guy Bluford, who became the first African American to fly in space.

The commander, Truly, was the only experienced member of the crew, having flown as the pilot on STS-2 and in two of the Approach and Landing Tests. Prior to this, he had worked as a capsule communicator for all three Skylab missions and the Apollo-Soyuz mission. Brandenstein, Gardner and Bluford had all been recruited in 1978, and been training for a mission since 1979. The mission had originally been planned for a crew of four, with Thornton added to the crew as a third mission specialist in December 1983, a year after the crew was originally named. As with Truly, he was an Apollo-era recruit, having joined NASA in 1967. His participation on the mission included a series of tests aimed at gathering information on the physiological changes linked with Space Adaptation Syndrome, more commonly known as "space sickness"; this had become a recent focus of attention in NASA, as astronauts succumbed to it during Shuttle missions.

The orbiter carried two space suits in case of an emergency; if needed, they would be used by Truly and Gardner.

Bluford exercising on a mid-deck treadmill whilst in orbitPosition Astronaut
  • Commander: Richard H. Truly (Second spaceflight)
  • Pilot: Daniel C. Brandenstein(First spaceflight)
  • Mission Specialist 1: Dale A. Gardner (First spaceflight)
  • Mission Specialist 2: Guion S. Bluford, Jr. (First spaceflight)
  • Mission Specialist 3: William E. Thornton (First spaceflight)

Launch preparation

Challenger's rollout from Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to be stacked for launch.

Preparation for the mission began on June 3, with the assembly of the solid-fuel rocket boosters on the mobile launcher platform. The boosters were stacked on June 20, and the external tank mated to the assembly on June 23. Challenger arrived at Kennedy Space Center on June 29, and was transferred to the Orbiter Processing Facility on June 30. After post-flight maintenance and preparation for the new mission, including the installation of most flight payloads, she was transferred to the Vehicle Assembly Building on July 27, and mated to the booster/tank stack. The stack was checked out on July 29/30, and moved to launch complex 39-A on August 2. INSAT-1B was loaded into the orbiter when on the pad; the overall processing time from Challenger arriving at the Cape Canaveral to being ready for launch was only sixty-two days, a record for the program so far.

The launch had originally been scheduled for August 4, 1983, and later rescheduled for August 20. The requirement to conduct testing with the TDRS system required a delay of ten days for the system to be ready, during which the stack remained on the launch pad. During the on-pad delay, a major tropical storm hit the Florida coastline, making landfall just south of the Kennedy Space Center on the morning of August 25. The storm had only been identified two days earlier, and there was no time to roll Challenger back from the pad; the decision was made to secure the launch stack and ride out the storm.

Launch

A lightning strike near the Orbiter stack, some hours before launch

Challenger finally launched at 06:32 UTC (02:32 EDT) on the 30th of August, after a final 17-minute delay due to thunderstorms near the launch site. The launch window extended from 06:15 to 06:49.

The launch, in darkness, was the first American night launch since Apollo 17, watched by several thousand spectators. The unusual launching time was due to the tracking requirements for the primary payload, INSAT-1B; the program would not have another night launch until STS-61-B in 1985. The crew had attempted to prepare for it by training in darkened simulators so as to keep their night vision, but in practice discovered that the light of the solid-fuel rocket boosters made it virtually like a day launch.

The launch was the first to use the newly-developed high-performance motor for the solid-fuel rocket boosters, which gave approximately 7% greater thrust, and the second-last to use the original standard-weight steel casings for the boosters. These had been replaced by a thinner case, saving some 4,000 lbs (1814 kg), on STS-6 and STS-7, but because of safety concerns the next two flights used the conventional cases.

Orbital operations

After a successful insertion into a circular orbit at 160 nautical miles (296 km), the first experiments began; the first two samples were run through the continuous electrophoresis system, and measurements were taken for the atmospheric luminosities study. A hydraulic circulation pump failed, but this was worked around and it proved to have no impact on operations.

INSAT-1B after deployment.

The major event of the second day (August 31) was the successful deployment of the INSAT-1B satellite, which took place at 7:48 UTC, with Challenger then maneuvering to avoid the firing of the booster motor forty minutes later. The deployment was a success, though the satellite had problems unfolding its solar array once in geostationary orbit, and was not fully operational until the middle of September. Other experimentation continued, though telemetry through TDRS was lost for around three hours, requiring manual intervention. A fire alarm sounded in the morning, indicating signs of a fire in the avionics compartment, but a second alarm remained silent and it was eventually determined to be a false alarm.

On the third and fourth days (September 1 and 2), work began with the remote manipulator system and the payload test article, and communications testing through TDRS continued. The former was successful, but the latter lost contact on a number of occasions, due to problems at the White Sands ground station. As a result, the crew had to be awakened early on September 1 in order to deal with the problem. A minor cabin pressure leak on September 2 was traced to the waste management system, and quickly controlled. The orbiter performed an orbital manuevering system firing on September 2 to place itself in a lower orbit, where the air density was higher and the oxygen interaction experiments would work more effectively.

On the fifth day (September 3), testing of the remote manipulator system continued, including a number of optional "shopping list" tests, and the TDRS tests were carried out with more success. A live press conference was held late in the day, the first in-flight press conference since Apollo 17. On the sixth day (September 4), experiment runs were completed and the crew prepared to deorbit. Two systems failures were recorded on this last day, the most serious of which involved a synchronization failure in one of the onboard computers.

Whilst on orbit, Challenger made a number of altitude and attitude adjustments, in order to test the behavior of a Shuttle orbiter and to perform some experiments in different thermal conditions. By exposing or shading areas from the sun in an unusual way, it was possible to induce particularly warm or cold conditions and observe any resulting problems. Overall, the crew successfully completed all fifty-four of the planned mission test objectives.

Landing

The mission plan called for a landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, at 121:28 mission elapsed time. On the original plan, this would have been at 7:44 UTC on September 4, before accounting for the last-minute launch delay; in the event, this was put back by one day to allow for further communications testing, and Challenger touched down at 07:40:33 UTC, (00:40:33 PDT) September 5, on Runway 22 at Edwards, on the morning of the seventh day of the mission. As with the launch, this was the first night landing of the program. The Shuttle orbiters had no on-board lights, due to the difficulty of designing landing lights to survive re-entry, and so the runway was lit by high-intensity xenon arc lamps to guide the orbiter in. There was no pressing operational requirement for a night landing, but there was a desire to prove it was possible.

Post-flight safety analysis

The launch was carried out with no obvious anomalies, but on September 27, during post-flight inspection of the solid rocket boosters, severe corrosion was discovered in the left-hand booster. The three-inch-thick (7.6 cm) resin lining protecting the rocket nozzle, which was designed to erode about half its thickness during firing, was found to have burned down to as little as 0.2 inches (0.5 mm) in places. By some estimations, this left around 14 seconds of firing time before the nozzle would have ruptured, a situation which would have resulted in loss of control and the probable break-up of the spacecraft. It was later determined that this fault was due to the particular batch of resin used on this set of boosters. The burn-through problem was treated as a small mishap by the media, and did not receive significant interest until after the Challenger disaster in 1986; the only major contemporary public criticism came from NASA's Soviet counterparts. As a result of this incident, the flight of STS-9 was delayed for a month whilst the nozzles of its boosters were changed.

Post-flight inspection of the thermal protection system tiles found seven major debris impacts and forty-nine minor impacts, of which three and twenty-six respectively were on the orbiter's underside. This was the lowest incidence of major tile damage until at least STS-74, and compares very favorably with the program average of twenty-three major impacts to the underside. It was the first Shuttle flight with no significant problems reported for the thermal protection system. Three windows were removed from the orbiter due to pitting and hazing.

A total of thirty-three in-flight anomalies were eventually reported. As well as the issues above, these covered problems ranging from faulty thermostats. to an unusually high amount of dust in the cabin.

Wake-up calls

A tradition for NASA human spaceflights since the days of Gemini, mission crews are played a special musical track at the start of each day in space. Each track is specially chosen, often by their families, and usually has a special meaning to an individual member of the crew, or is applicable to their daily activities.

Flight DaySongArtist/ComposerPlayed for
Day 2Georgia Tech Fight SongRichard Truly
Day 3Illinois Fight SongDale Gardner
Day 4Penn State Fight SongGuy Bluford
Day 5University of North Carolina Fight SongWilliam Thornton
Day 6Tala SawariRavi ShankarINSAT
Day 7Semper FidelisJohn Philip Sousa