Spaceflight Insider

Our Spaceflight Heritage: international cooperation with SpaceLab

The seven astronauts included in the STS-55 crew portrait are: (front left to right) Terence (Tom) Henricks, pilot; Steven R. Nagel, commander; and Charles J. Precourt, mission specialist. On the back row, from left to right, are Bernard A. Harris, mission specialist; Hans Schlegel, payload specialist; Jerry L. Ross, mission specialist; and Ulrich Walter, payload specialist. The crew launched aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia on April 26, 1993 at 10:50:00 am (EDT). The major payload was the German Dedicated Spacelab, D2 Photo Credit: NASA

On this day in 1993, the crew of STS-55 launched aboard space shuttle Columbia with the German payload SpaceLab demonstating the team’s abiliy for international cooperation and scientific research.

88 experiments were conducted, covering materials and life sciences, technology applications, Earth observations, astronomy and atmospheric physics. Material science investigations were: Material Science Experiment Double Rack for Experiment Modules and Apparatus (MEDEA); A Holographic Optics Laboratory (HOLOP); and on Unique Support Structure (USS) located aft of D-2 in cargo bay, Material Science Autonomous Payload (MAUS), and Atomic Oxygen Exposure Tray (AOET). Also located on USS, Radiation Detectors (RD) experiments. One crystal growth experiment yielded a 0.78-inch (20-mm) crystal of gallium arsenide.

Life science research performed with Anthrorack (AR); Biolabor (BB); and Baroreflex (BA). Anthrorack, advanced mini-diagnostic laboratory, allowed most comprehensive medical screening to date of human adaptation to weightlessness. Benard Harris, a medical doctor, set up first I.V. (intravenous) line in space, injecting Hans Schlegel with saline as part of study to replace body fluids lost during adaptation to weightlessness.

Tests with Robotics Experiment (ROTEX), an advanced robotic assembly provided by Germany, were highly successful. The ROTEX robotic arm performed first by capturing free-floating object in space via remote control from Earth. The Crew achieved two-way communications with Crew Telesupport Experiment, which featured onboard Macintosh computer to establish data link with ground control. Five crew members communicated with school children worldwide through Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment (SAREX); Steven Nagel also made contact with Russian cosmonauts aboard the Mir space station.

However, the mission enocuntered problems when an overheating orbiter refrigerator/freezer unit in middeck forced reliance on backup to store experiment samples and a leaking nitrogen line in wastewater tank required an on-orbit fix. Communications with Columbia was lost for about an hour and a half on May 4 due to errant command from Mission Control in Houston. On May 2, mission managers determined enough electrical power remained to extend the flight by one day.

STS-55 surpassed the 365th day in space for the space shuttle fleet and also surpassed the 100th day of flight time in space for Columbia, the fleet’s oldest orbiter on its fourteenth flight.


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Heather Smith's fascination for space exploration – started at the tender age of twelve while she was on a sixth-grade field trip in Kenner, Louisiana, walking through a mock-up of the International Space Station and seeing the “space potty” (her terminology has progressed considerably since that time) – she realized at this point that her future lay in the stars. Smith has come to realize that very few people have noticed how much spaceflight technology has improved their lives. She has since dedicated herself to correcting this problem. Inspired by such classic literature as Anne Frank’s Diary, she has honed her writing skills and has signed on as The Spaceflight Group’s coordinator for the organization’s social media efforts.

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