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40 Years Ago: STS-7 and the Flight of Sally Ride

On June 18, 1983, space shuttle Challenger lifted off on its second journey to space, the STS-7 mission. Among its five-person crew, Challenger carried the first American woman into space, NASA astronaut Sally K. Ride. Other notable firsts for the mission included the first five-person crew, the first flight of astronauts from the Class of 1978, and the first astronaut to make a second flight on the shuttle. The flight also featured the first release and retrieval of a satellite using the Canadian robotic arm in addition to launching two commercial satellites for Canada and Indonesia. Bad weather thwarted the first attempt to land the shuttle in Florida, with Challenger returning home in California after its successful six-day mission.

Left: The STS-7 crew patch. Middle: The STS-7 crew of Sally K. Ride, left, John M. Fabian, Robert L. Crippen, Norman E. Thagard, and Frederick “Rick” H. Hauck. Right: The STS-7 payload bay configuration, the SPAS-01 retrievable pallet, top, the OSTA-2 payload, and the Anik C2 and Palapa B1 communications satellites.

On April 19, 1982, NASA announced the crew for STS-7, a six-day mission aboard space shuttle Challenger, then planned for April 1983. NASA named Robert L. Crippen as commander of the flight, the first astronaut assigned to a second shuttle mission, Frederick “Rick” H. Hauck as the pilot, and John M. Fabian and Sally K. Ride as the two mission specialists. Ride held the honor as the first American woman assigned to a space mission, and along with Hauck and Fabian, they jointly held the honor as the first from the Class of 1978 named to a shuttle crew. Following several cases of space motion sickness on the early shuttle missions, on Dec 21, 1982, NASA added Dr. Norman E. Thagard, a physician-astronaut also from the Class of 1978, as a fifth member of the STS-7 crew to conduct in-depth studies to better understand the causes of the malady. In addition to launching the two communications satellites, Anik C2 satellite for Telesat Canada and Palapa B1 for Indonesia, STS-7 also carried the German-built  retrievable Shuttle Pallet Satellite SPAS-01, with 10 experiments on board, and the Office of Space and Terrestrial Applications OSTA-2 payload carrying three experiments. The Continuous Flow Electrophoresis System (CFES) commercial experiment, flown on previous missions, was mounted in the shuttle’s middeck.

STS-7 Crew STS-7 News Conference STS-7 Shuttle Simulator

Left: The original four-member STS-7 crew of Robert L. Crippen, left, Frederick “Rick” H. Hauck, Sally K. Ride, and John M. Fabian during an April 1982 press conference. Middle: The five-person STS-7 crew of Crippen, left, Hauck, Ride, Fabian, and Norman E. Thagard at the May 24, 1982, preflight crew press conference. Right: Crippen, left, Hauck, Ride, and Fabian in the shuttle simulator at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston – Thagard rode in the middeck during ascent and entry.

sts 7 rollover may 21 1983 sts 7 vab mate sts 7 rollout may 26 1983
Left: Workers back space shuttle Challenger out from the Orbiter Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to roll it over to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Middle: In the VAB, workers lift Challenger to mate it to its Solid Rocket Boosters and External Tank. Right: Rollout of space shuttle Challenger from the VAB to Launch Pad 39A.

Assembly of the vehicle for STS-7 began on Feb. 9, 1983, with the stacking of the two Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) on Mobile Launcher Platform-1 (MLP-1) the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Workers completed the stacking on Feb. 23 and added the External Tank (ET) on March 2. Following its return to KSC from the STS-6 mission on April 16, space shuttle orbiter Challenger spent 35 days in the Orbiter Processing Facility, the shortest turnaround time up to that point. Workers towed Challenger to the VAB on May 21 and attached it to the combined SRBs and ET to complete the stack. Workers rolled the assembled vehicle to Launch Pad 39A on May 26, transferring the payloads to its cargo bay two days later. The crew participated in the Countdown Demonstration Test, essentially a dress rehearsal for the launch itself, on June 3.

sts 7 prelaunch June 1983 sts 7 crew walkout for launch jun 18 1983 sts 7 launch

Left: Space shuttle Challenger on Launch Pad 39A the night before launch. Middle: The STS-7 crew walk out of crew quarters and prepare to board the transfer van to the launch pad. Right: Liftoff of STS-7.

On June 18, 1983, space shuttle Challenger lifted off from KSC’s Launch Pad 39A to begin its second mission to space, carrying its five passengers, the largest astronaut crew up to that time. An estimated 500,000 people attended the historic launch. Once the shuttle cleared the launch tower, control of the flight shifted to the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, where a team led by Ascent Flight Director Jay H. Greene, with astronaut Roy D. Bridges serving as capsule communicator (capcom), monitored all aspects of the mission. After reaching orbit, Ride became the first American woman in space, her launch occurring twenty years after the flight of cosmonaut Valentina V. Tereshkova, the first woman in space. The crew settled into their orbital routine, completing their first major task to open the shuttle’s payload bay doors that also exposed radiators to cool the spacecraft. A few hours later, Fabian and Ride remotely deployed the Canadian Anik C2 communications satellite. The astronauts then settled down for their first night’s sleep in space.

sts 7 payload bay sts 7 anik c2 deploy sts 7 palapa b1 deploy
Left: View of Challenger’s payload bay following opening of the payload bay doors, showing
the SPAS-01 and OSTA-2 payloads in the foreground, the clamshell for the Palapa satellite
behind them, and at right, the Canadian-built Remote Manipulator System robotic arm in
its cradle. Middle: Deploy of the Anik C2 communications satellite for Telesat Canada.
Right: Deploy of the Palapa B1 satellite for Indonesia.

sts 7 crippen sleep sts 7 hauck sleep sts 7 fabian sleep sts 7 ride sleep sts 7 thagard sleep
Sleeping in space. The STS-7 astronauts Robert L. Crippen, left, Frederick H. “Rick” Hauck, John M. Fabian, Sally K. Ride, and Norman E. Thagard each find a unique place to sleep.

To begin the astronauts’ second day in space, Mission Control woke them up with the fight songs from Texas A&M University, in tribute to JSC Director Gerald D. Griffin, and the University of Texas at Austin, Crippen’s alma mater. Fabian and Ride remotely deployed the Indonesian Palapa B1 communications satellite, successfully completing the commercial payload deployments for the mission. The astronauts and Mission Control exchanged Father’s Day greetings, and the astronauts checked out the Canadian-built Remote Manipulator System (RMS) robotic arm and the SPAS-01 satellite, scheduled for its operations later in the mission. At the end of the day, astronaut Mary L. Cleave took over as capcom, and her communications with Ride aboard Challenger marked the first woman-to-woman exchange on the space-to-ground loop. Flight Day 3 began with a replay of the Texas A&M fight song, along with the Tufts University fight song, Hauck’s alma mater. The astronauts activated the experiments on the SPAS-01 pallet. Crippen and Hauck fired Challenger’s Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) engines to circularize its orbit. As the wake up call on Flight Day 4, Mission Control played “When You’re Smiling,” made famous by Louis Armstrong and rendered by capcom Cleave’s father. During this day, the astronauts dealt with an overheating experiment on the SPAS-01 pallet, requiring it to be turned off.

sts 7 spas and rms sts 7 challenger 7 sts 7 23 ride and cfes sts 7 thagard sms
Left: The SPAS-01 retrievable pallet about to be released by the Canadarm Remote Manipulator System (RMS).
Middle left: View of space shuttle Challenger from the SPAS-01 pallet during proximity operations, with
the RMS parked in the shape of the numeral 7. Middle right: STS-7 astronaut Sally K. Ride with the
Continuous Flow Electrophoresis System experiment. Right: Astronaut Norman E. Thagard
conducting a vestibulo-ocular reflex experiment to better understand space motion sickness.

To begin the astronauts’ fifth day in space, Mission Control played the Washington State University fight song for alum Fabian. He unberthed the RMS and grappled the SPAS-01 pallet, lifting it out of its cradle and out of the payload bay. He conducted a brief test release and recapture, before releasing for its independent flight. From up to 1,000 feet away, cameras aboard the pallet captured stunning images of Challenger, with the RMS parked in the shape of the numeral “7.” Crippen and Hauck then flew Challenger back to the SPAS-01 and Fabian recaptured it with the RMS. Ride and Thagard each completed a release and recapture cycle before returning the pallet to its cradle in the payload bay. Making a reference to the STS-5 crew that proclaimed, “we deliver,” after launching two satellites, Crippen told the ground, “We pick up and deliver.”

sts 7 oms burn fd 3 sts 7 onorbit crew photo
Left: The firing of Challenger’s two Orbital Maneuvering System engines.
Right: Inflight photograph of the STS-7 crew of Norman E. Thagard, left,
Robert L. Crippen, Frederick “Rick” H. Hauck, Sally K. Ride,
and John M. Fabian.

The crew’s sixth day in space began with Mission Control playing the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” as the wakeup song. The astronauts spent the day completing scientific experiments such as CFES, they picked up the SPAS-01 pallet once more without releasing it, and fired Challenger’s thrusters to conduct stability tests. Thagard provided a televised show of the biomedical experiments. The astronauts began preparations for their return to Earth the next day, even as managers kept a wary eye on the weather at KSC that threatened to divert their landing to California.

sts 7 reentry sts 7 landing sts 7 flight directors in mcc post landing jun 24 1983
Left: STS-7 Commander Robert L. Crippen during reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, with the
orange glow of the plasma around the spacecraft seen through the windows. Middle: Space
shuttle Challenger touches down at Edwards Air Force Base in California to end the
STS-7 mission. Right: STS-7 Flight Directors John T. Cox, left, Lawrence S. “Larry”
Bourgeois, Tommy W. Holloway, Jay H. Greene, and Gary E. Coen in the Mission
Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston
shortly after the STS-7 touchdown.

Following their final night’s sleep in space, Mission Control played the Florida State University fight song for alum Thagard. With low clouds over the runway at KSC, managers decided to wave off the first deorbit opportunity and keep the astronauts in space an extra orbit. Already in their blue launch and entry suits, the astronauts then closed Challenger’s payload bay doors. With weather actually worsening at KSC, managers decided to have them return to Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Mojave Desert, requiring them to stay in space for one more orbit. Crippen and Hauck fired Challenger’s OMS engine over the Indian Ocean to bring them back to Earth. As Challenger approached the California coastline, Crippen, referring to his first landing on STS-1, told Mission Control, “I’ll say it once more … what a way to come to California!” A few minutes later, he guided Challenger onto Runway 15 at Edwards, bringing the historic STS-7 mission to a close after 6 days, 2 hours, and 24 minutes. The astronauts had circled the Earth 98 times.

sts 7 deplane at edwards sts 7 postlanding at dryden sts 7 arr ellington
Left: STS-7 astronauts Norman E. Thagard, Frederick H. “Rick” Hauck, John M. Fabian, Sally K. Ride,
and Robert L. Crippen deplane from space shuttle Challenger following their landing at Edwards
Air Force Base (AFB) in California. Middle: The STS-7 crew at the Dryden (now Armstrong)
Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB shortly after landing. Right: Hauck, left, Ride,
Thagard, Fabian, and Crippen are greeted by their families and Johnson Space Center
director Gerald D. Griffin following their arrival at Ellington AFB in Houston.

Half an hour after landing, Crippen, Hauck, Fabian, Ride, and Thagard exited Challenger using an airliner mobile stairway, and performed the customary walkaround inspection of the vehicle. A van whisked them away to NASA’s Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center located at Edwards for showers and brief medical exams, and they received a congratulatory phone call from President Ronald W. Reagan. The astronauts held a brief press conference and greeted Dryden and Edwards employees. They boarded a NASA jet that flew them to Ellington Air Force Base in Houston, where they reunited with their families who had been waiting for them at KSC and had just arrived in Houston. Director Griffin welcomed them back to JSC as employees cheered. The STS-7 crew held a press conference on July 1, during which they showed a video of their mission and answered reporters’ questions. They finally returned to KSC on July 28, where Director Richard “Dick” G. Smith and thousands of employees held a red carpet welcoming reception for them.

sts 7reception at jsc sts 7 34 postflight crew presser jul 1 1983 sts 7 welcome back to ksc jul 28 1983
Left: Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston Gerald D. Griffin welcomes the STS-7
crew back to JSC. Middle: Crippen, Hauck, Ride, Fabian, and Thagard at the postflight news conference.
Right: The STS-7 crew during the welcome home reception at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.