Space Shuttle: Discovery
Launch Pad: 39B
Launched: February 3, 1995, 12:22:04 a.m. EST
Landing Site: Kennedy Space Center, Florida
Landing: February 11, 1995, 6:50:19 a.m. EST
Rollout Distance: 11,008 feet
Rollout Time: 80 seconds
Mission Duration: 8 days, 6 hours, 28 minutes, 15 seconds
Orbit Altitude: 213 nautical miles
Orbit Inclination: 51.6 degrees
Miles Traveled: 3.0 million
Image above: STS-63 Crew photo with Commander James D. Wetherbee, Pilot Eileen M. Collins, Missions Specialists C. Michael Foale, Janice E. Voss, Bernard A. Harris, Jr. and Vladimar G. Titov. Image Credit: NASA
Adjustments made to countdown sequence to better accommodate short five-minute window required for rendezvous with Mir, including adding more hold time at T-6 hours and T-9 minutes. Launch first scheduled for Feb. 2 postponed at L-1 when one of three inertial measurement units on orbiter failed. Countdown Feb. 3 proceeded so smoothly there was extra time left in T-9 minute hold. Launch marked first at 51.6-degree inclination to the equator to put orbiter in line with Mir, also at 51.6-degree inclination.
First shuttle flight of 1995 included several history- making achievements: First flight of a female shuttle pilot and, as part of Phase I of International Space Station Program, second flight of Russian cosmonaut on shuttle and first approach and flyaround by shuttle with Russian space station Mir.
Beginning on flight day one, series of thruster burns performed daily to bring Discovery in line with Mir. Original plan called for orbiter to approach to no closer than 10 meters, or 32.8 feet, from Mir, and then complete flyaround of Russian space station. However, three of 44 orbiter Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters -- small firing jets used for on-orbit maneuvering -- sprang leaks prior to rendezvous. Shortly after main engine cutoff, two leaks occurred in aft primary thrusters, one of which -- called R1U -- was key to rendezvous. Third leak occurred later in flight in forward primary thruster, but crew was able to fix problem.
After extensive negotiations and technical information exchanges between U.S. and Russian space teams, Russians concluded close approach could be safely achieved and STS-63 crew was given 'go' to proceed. R1U thruster manifold was closed and backup thruster selected for approach. Ship-to-ship radio contact with Mir achieved well ahead of time, and Titov, who lived on Mir for more than a year, communicated excitedly with three cosmonauts aboard space station: Mir 17 Commander Alexander Viktorenko; Flight Engineer Elena Kondakova; and Valery Polyakov, a physician who has broken Titov's record for extended time in space. After stationkeeping at a distance of 400 feet (122 meters) from Mir and with Wetherbee manually controlling orbiter, Discovery flown to 37 feet from Russian space station. "As we are bringing our spaceships closer together, we are bringing our nations closer together," Wetherbee said after Discovery was at point of closest approach. "The next time we approach, we will shake your hand and together we will lead our world into the next millennium."
"We are one. We are human," Viktorenko responded. Wetherbee then backed away to 400 feet (122 meters) and performed one and a quarter-loop flyaround of Mir while station was filmed and photographed. The Mir crew reported no vibrations or solar array movement as result of the approach.
Crew also worked extensively with payloads aboard Discovery. Flying in forward payload bay and activated on flight day one was SPACEHAB-3. The commercially-developed module was making its third flight on the shuttle and carried 20 experiments: 11 biotechnology experiments; three advanced materials development experiments; four technology demonstrations; and two pieces of supporting hardware measuring on-orbit accelerations. Improvements made to SPACEHAB system to reduce demand on crew time. New video switch added to lessen need for astronaut involvement in video operations, and experiment interface added to telemetry system to allow experiment investigator to link directly via computer with onboard experiment to receive data and monitor status. Charlotte, an experimental robotic device being flown for first time, also will reduce crew workload by taking over simple tasks such as changing experiment samples.
Among plant growth experiments were Astroculture, flying for fourth time on shuttle. Objective of Astroculture is to validate performance of plant growth technologies in microgravity environment of space for application to a life support system in space. Investigation has applications on Earth, since it covers such topics as energy-efficient lighting and removal of pollutants from indoor air. One of the pharmaceutical experiments, Immune, also has Earth applications. Exploiting known tendency of spaceflight to suppress immune system, Immune experiment tested ability of a particular substance to prevent or reduce this suppression. Clinical applications could include treatment of individuals suffering from such immunosuppressant diseases as AIDS.
On flight day two, crew deployed Orbital Debris Radar Calibration System-II (ODERACS-II) to help characterize orbital debris environment for objects smaller than 10 centimeters (about four inches) in diameter. Complement of six target objects of known dimensions and with limited orbital lifespans released into orbit and tracked by ground- based radars, allowing precise calibration of radars so they can more accurately track smaller pieces of space debris in low Earth orbit.
Also on flight day two, crew lifted with orbiter remote manipulator system arm the SPARTAN-204 from its support structure in payload bay. SPARTAN remained suspended on arm for observation of orbiter glow phenomenon and thruster jet firings. SPARTAN-204 later released from arm to complete about 40 hours of free-flight, during which time its Far Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph instrument studied celestial targets in the interstellar medium, the gas and dust which fills the space between the stars and which is the material from which new stars and planets are formed.
SPARTAN-204 also used for extravehicular activity (EVA) near end of flight. Foale and Harris began EVA suspended at end of robot arm, away from payload bay, to test modifications to their spacesuits to keep spacewalkers warmer in extreme cold of space. Two astronauts were then scheduled to practice handling approximately 2,500-pound (1,134-kilogram) SPARTAN to rehearse space station assembly techniques, but both astronauts reported they were becoming very cold -- this portion of walk performed during a night pass -- and mass handling curtailed. 29th shuttle spacewalk lasted 4 hours, 38 minutes. Harris first African-American to walk in space.
Other payloads: Along with ODERACS-II, Cryo System Experiment (CSE) and Shuttle Glow (GLO-2) payloads were mounted on Hitchhiker support assembly in cargo bay; an IMAX camera also located here. In middeck, Solid Surface Combustion Experiment (SSCE) flew for eighth time. Air Force Maui Optical Site (AMOS) test requires no onboard hardware.
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center