38 years ago, Challenger’s STS-41-C mission took flight
Launched from pad 39-A at Kennedy space centre on the 6th of April 1984 and landing back on solid ground on the 13th of April 1984 at Edwards Airforce Base in California. The mission lasted a week, a day over schedule because of mission complications during the second phase.
The Mission of STS-41-C
This mission had two prime objectives: the first being to deploy the Long Duration Exposure Facility abbreviated as LDEF. Second was to repair the Solar Max satellite that had malfunctioned during its mission. The latter taken the longest in EVA time as mission specialists Hoften and Nelson repaired the sat taking 7 hours and 7 minutes.
Serving as the mission’s commander was Robert L. Crippen, the only veteran astronaut among the crew as this was his third spaceflight.
Francis R. Scobee assigned as Challenger’s pilot.
Three mission specialists, all of whom were on their first spaceflight like Francis. James D. A. Van Hoften, George D. Nelson, And Terry J. Hart. Both Hoften and Nelson carried out the two necessary EVAs totalling just over ten hours in vacuum.
The Long Duration Exposure Facility or LDEF
At 9,700 kilograms, the LDEF was a large modular in design satellite constructed to fit within the space shuttle’s cargo hold. Taking the form of an elongated 9 meter long, 12-sided polygonal cylinder design which could carry up to 86 experiments onboard. Built to study the long-term effects the environment of space has on materials and components. It largely succeeded in its mission as it returned sizeable sums of data from its complement of 57 experiments. This data exposed the strengths and weaknesses in current spacecraft of the time which helped spacecraft designers innovate further, leading to the construction of better, more reliable spacecraft in the future which serve us to this day, most notably the International Space Station.
LDEF was originally planned to be relaunched as a reusable system serving several missions over one-year long terms. This was not the case. Instead, LDEF was used only for a single long duration mission, lasting just short of six years. It was during this satellite’s deployment that the threat of orbital debris collisions (space junk) significantly heightened. It was decided the satellite would serve a single long duration mission, furthering its use as a “meteoroid and orbital debris detector” as it had a large surface area of around 130 square meters. Basically, let it get shot full of debris and bring it back to look at the damage.
LDEFs return to Earth
LDEF also had a prolonged stay in orbit asides from the change in its mission profile as It’s planned retrieval was delayed due to the unfortunate fate of Challenger and her crew in 1986 which saw a halt on spaceflights until a full investigation into the incident was carried out. The satellite was later saved and returned to Earth via the STS-32 mission carried out by Columbia in January 1990 during LDEFs’ decaying orbit with a month left to live.
The Solar Max Satellite
The second aim of Challenger’s mission saw her crew capture, repair, and finally redeploy the “Solar Max” otherwise known as SMM before turning and burning for home. The Solar Max satellite launched under NASA’s Solar Max Mission to investigate solar activity and phenomena, primarily that of solar flares.
Launched into a Low Earth Orbit in February 1980, however suffered an attitude control failure in November that same year. It laid their awaiting repairs until the STS-41-C mission could revive the satellite and redeploy it. However, George Nelson attempted to capture the Solar Max, but with no success. Their window of opportunity closed as the shuttle and the satellite slowly parted ways on their orbits, which meant the crew had to wait for their next window, which added a day to the overall mission time. The second capture attempt was a success, as well as the repairs and redeployment of the Solar Max. It carried out its mission until it yet again had an attitude control failure and its orbital decay eventually saw it burn up over the Indian Ocean on the 2nd of December 1989.
The third of the six space shuttles. STS-41-C was Challenger’s 5th successful spaceflight and mission during its career until the shuttle and her seven crew met their fatal, tragic end on the 28th of January 1986. It was Challenger’s 10th flight to space she never got to make.