A Foggy Morning Adds Surrealism to the Wonder of Spaceflight

November 30, 1982: A foggy morning before the inaugural flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger offered no hint to the troubles that would plague the mission. On top of an over two-month launch delay, a malfunction placed the shuttle in a too-low orbit for the first shuttle-based spacewalk and satellite deployment.

Space Shuttle Challenger pierced the fog of Pad 39A at Cape Canaveral, Florida in anticipation of mission STS-6. The first flight of the space shuttle was delayed from January 20, 1983 when a flight readiness test in December revealed a hydrogen leak. All three engines were stripped from the shuttle during troubleshooting; ultimately one engine was replaced and fuel line cracks were repaired, while two of the engines were reinstalled after extensive testing. The backup launch date was further delayed by contamination of the payload (a satellite) during a severe storm. The launch finally happened on April 4, 1983.


The five-day mission carried NASA astronauts Paul J. Weitz, Karol J. Bobko, Donald H. Peterson, and F. Story Musgrave into orbit to deploy the first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-1) during the first spacewalk from a space shuttle. The upper stage booster malfunctioned, producing a stable but unfortunately low orbit and forcing deployed satellite to burn additional propellant to gradually reach its target orbit.

Space Shuttle Columbia on Pad 39A on November 30, 1982. Image credit: NASA

Contact the author at mika.mckinnon@io9.com or follow her at @MikaMcKinnon.


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