Our Spaceflight Heritage: Endeavour’s maiden voyage
On this date in 1992, space shuttle Endeavour took to the skies for the first time on STS-49. Photo Credit: NASA
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — On May 7, 1992, Space Shuttle Endeavour roared aloft on her maiden voyage. The crew of Endeavour’s STS-49 mission captured and repaired Intelsat VI, which had been stranded in an unusable orbit since its launch atop a Titan rocket in March of 1990. Over the course of 3 spacewalks, the satellite was equipped with a new perigee kick motor and released into orbit. When its new motor fired, the satellite was placed into a geosynchronous orbit.
At 7:40 p.m. EDT, Endeavour
soared through sky led by Commander Daniel C. Brandenstein
and pilot Kevin P. Chilton
onboard with mission specialists Thomas D. Akers
, Richard J. Hieb, Bruce E. Melnick
, Kathryn C. Thornton
, and Pierre J. Thuot
, all of whom were making their second spaceflight.
Astronauts Richard J. Hieb, Thomas D. Akers and Pierre J. Thuot capture the Intelsat VI satellite
Photo Credit: NASA
The highlight of the mission was the capture of the stranded INTELSAT VI (F-3) satellite. However, this was no easy task and it would require an effort which would mark s historic first for the shuttle program..
Photo Credit: NASA
The capture required three EVAs: the first was a planned one carried out by astronauts Pierre J. Thuot and Richard J. Hieb who were unable to attach a capture bar to the satellite from a position on the Remote Manipulator System (RMS); a second unscheduled but identical attempt on the following day; and finally an unscheduled but successful hand capture by Thuot and fellow crewmen Hieb and Akers as Brandenstein delicately maneuvered the orbiter to within a few feet of the 4.5 ton communications satellite.
An ASEM structure was erected in the cargo bay by the crew to serve as a platform to aid in the hand capture and subsequent attachment of the capture bar. EVA 3 with Thuot, Hieb and Akers was the first time that three people from the same spacecraft walked in space at the same time. It would also be the longest spacewalk until STS-102 in 2001.
The satellite was subsequently released into orbit and the new motor fired to put INTELSAT VI into a geosynchronous orbit for operational use.
These seven NASA astronauts are currently training for the first flight of Endeavour, Orbiter Vehicle (OV) 105, seen in the background. Crewmembers, wearing navy blue flight suits, are (left to right) Mission Specialist (MS) Kathryn C. Thornton, MS Bruce E. Melnick, MS Pierre J. Thuot, Commander Daniel C. Brandenstein, Pilot Kevin P. Chilton, MS Thomas D. Akers, and MS Richard J. Hieb. Photo Credit: Mark Sowa / NASA JSC
Other “payloads of opportunity” experiments conducted included: Commercial Protein Crystal Growth (CPCG), Ultraviolet Plume Imager (UVPI) and the Air Force Maui Optical Station (AMOS) investigation. The mission was extended two days to complete all of the objectives.
When all was said and done, as is the case with any maiden flight of an orbiter, Brandenstein and Chilton landed Endeavour at Vandenberg Air Force Base 0n May 16, 1992 on Runway 22. All total, the orbiter dipped her wings into the black of space for eight days, 21 hours and 17 minutes.
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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.