Wednesday, September 26, 2012

STS-41-B causeway pass and brochure

This week, some mementos from Space Shuttle mission STS-41-B (originally designated STS-11)1 which launched on 3 February 1984.

STS-41-B was Space Shuttle Challenger’s fourth trip to space, and the tenth shuttle flight overall.2 In most ways, it was an absolutely typical early-80s shuttle mission. The main objectives were to deliver two unremarkable Hughes HS-3763 commercial communication satellites to orbit: Westar 6 for Western Union (which later sold off its satellite business, today owned by Westar) and Palapa B2 for Indosat.4

What made the flight unforgettable, though, was the first flight of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU)—a personal propulsion system like an oversized backpack built for NASA by Martin Marietta (today part of Lockheed Martin). The MMU allowed astronauts to manœuver independently in space, untethered and away from their spacecraft. Astronaut Bruce McCandless’s first test of the system on 7 February provided one of the iconic images of the shuttle program:

NASA image S84-27017

The MMU deserves a post of its own sometime in the future. For today, I’ll focus on the mission itself.

This brochure, issued by the shuttle’s manufacturer, Rockwell International (today, part of Boeing) in January 1984 describes the mission objectives, the cargo, and the crew:

Apart from discussing the communication satellites and the MMU, the brochure also outlines the dress rehearsal conducted during the mission for a satellite rescue to be performed on the next flight. When actually realised, this part was truly deserving of Rockwell’s advertising hype “Another Stride in America’s Space Capabilites”. Putting satellites in orbit was well-established technology, but on STS-41-C, NASA would attempt to repair one in orbit. But back to STS-41-B...

This pass allowed a spectator’s vehicle onto the NASA Causeway to watch the STS-41-B launch. Ten kilometres (six miles) from the launch pad, this was the closest that the public could get.

The pass itself is a fluorescent pink, that unfortunately my scanner reduces to the pale salmon you see here. It’s also in much poorer condition than the other passes in my collection. Please let me know if you’ve got a better one that you’re prepared to part with!

1 From this, the tenth shuttle flight, through to the twenty-fifth, NASA abandoned its previous scheme of identifying shuttle missions simply by the prefix “STS” (for Space Transportation System, the official name of the shuttle program) followed by the number of the flight. Instead, the agency adopted a code of two digits and a letter. The first digit represented the financial year from which the budget for the flight came. The second digit represented the launch site for the mission (“1” for the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, “2” for Vandenberg Air Force Base, California). The final letter represented the number of the flight in that financial year, so STS-41-B was followed by STS-41-C and STS-41-D. Shuttle flights for 1984, 1985, and 1986 followed this designation scheme. No shuttles ever launched from Vandenberg, so “1” was the only second digit ever used.

2 The mission that would have been designated STS-10 was cancelled due to delays with its payload. It was later flown as STS-51-C.

3 Hughes is today part of Boeing.

4 Both launches failed and the satellites were trapped in useless orbits. They were retrieved for their insurers in November 1984 by shuttle mission STS-51-A. Both were subsequently refurbished, resold, and successfully reflown on separate expendable launch vehicles in 1990.

Copyright information: the brochure is a work of Rockwell International and does not carry a copyright notice. As a work published in the United States prior to 1989 without such a notice, it is in the public domain. The MMU photograph and the pass are works of NASA. As works of the United States federal government, they too are  in the public domain.

No comments:

Post a Comment