German-run shuttle mission successful.
The shuttlecraft Challenger's eight-member crew was the largest ever flown in space, including two German and one Dutch "mission specialists" as well as five U.S. participants. Together they kept Spacelab running 24 hours a day, managed by the West German space agency not through NASA in Houston but through the German Space Operations Center (where 140 scientists also provide support) in Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich.
The flight's only major non-Spacelab activity was the successful deployment of a test satellite to relay messages for a proposed Defense Department system. Deployed by a spring from one of NASA's "Getaway Special" canisters, it recouped an attempt that had failed due to battery problems last April.
Another shuttle makeup operation proved itself just two days before the Spacelab launching, when ground controllers radioed up commands that successfully ignited a formerly malfunctioning rocket motor to raise the altitude of the already orbiting Syncom 3 communications satellite. Spacewalking astronauts had repaired the satellite in August (SN: 9/7/85, p. 150), but the proof of the pudding--the firing order--had to wait until the satellite reached its proper position.
The Spacelab D-1 mission's final accomplishment before Challenger rolled to a stop at California's Edwards Air Force Base was a test of a computerized steering system for the shuttle's nosewheel, designed to remedy brake damage and excess tire wear last suffered during an April landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Landings since then have been restricted to the more "forgiving" West Coast strip, but last week's test initially appeared succesful and should help repave the way for East Coast homecomings.
The next mission will be aboard the shuttle Atlantis, which lacks the new nosewheel system and will land in California. Set for launch on Nov. 26, it will feature a structural-assembly test in which spacewalking astronauts will construct a 45-foot-high tower from the payload bay.