Space Shuttle Discovery,
named after several historical ships of exploration, was the third
space-qualified orbiter to be added to the fleet. Incorporating manufacturing
lessons learned from the first orbiters, as well as through the use of more
advanced materials, Discovery weighed
nearly 8,000 pounds less than its sister ship Columbia.
out of Rockwell International’s plant in Palmdale, California, on Oct. 16,
1983, arriving at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 9 after a cross-country
ferry flight from Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) atop the Shuttle Carrier
Aircraft (SCA), a modified Boeing 747. After ground processing, Discovery was mated to its external tank
and Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB),
rolling out to Launch Pad 39A on May 19, 1984. A Flight Readiness Firing, an
18-second test of the shuttle main engines conducted before the first flight of
an orbiter, was successfully completed on June 2.
Assigned to Discovery’s
first flight, designated STS-41D, were Commander Henry W. Hartsfield, a veteran
of the STS-4 mission; Pilot Michael L. Coats; Mission Specialists R. Michael
Mullane, Steven A. Hawley and Judith A. Resnik; and Charles D. Walker, an
employee of the McDonnell Douglas Corporation, flying as the first commercial payload
specialist. Walker was added to the crew to operate the company’s Continuous
Flow Electrophoresis System (CFES) experiment.
The primary payloads for the mission were three commercial
communications satellites: SBS-4 for Small Business Systems, Telstar 3C for
Telesat of Canada, and Syncom IV-2, also known as Leasat 2, for the U.S. Navy. Another
payload in the cargo bay was the OAST-1 solar array, sponsored by NASA’s Office
of Astronautics and Space Technology. The device was a 102-foot-long extendable
and retractable panel containing different types of experimental solar cells. At
the time, it was the largest structure deployed from a crewed space vehicle,
and shuttle thruster firings tested the dynamic stability of the array wing.
The combined cargo weighed 41,184 pounds, the heaviest of
the Space Shuttle Program up to that time.
A large-format IMAX® camera, making its second trip into space aboard the
shuttle, was in the middeck to film scenes both inside the shuttle and out the
The first launch attempt
on June 25, 1984, was delayed by one day due to the failure of the shuttle’s
backup General Purpose Computer (GPC). The June 26 attempt was halted just four
seconds before liftoff, when the GPC detected a fault in one of the shuttle’s
three main engines and shut them all down.
It was the first time a human spaceflight launch experienced an abort
after the start of its engines since Gemini 6 in October 1965. The abort
necessitated a rollback to the VAB on July 14, where Discovery was de-mated from the external tank and SRBs. The faulty
engine was replaced, and Discovery
rolled back out to the pad on Aug. 9 for another launch attempt on Aug. 29. That
attempt was delayed by one day due to a software issue.
Left: Initial rollout of Discovery from
the VAB. Right: June 26 launch abort. Image Credits: NASA
installed in Discovery's payload bay
for the STS-41D mission (top to bottom) OAST-1, SBS-4, Telstar 3C and Syncom
IV-2. Right: Launch of Discovery on
the STS-41D mission. Image Credits: NASA
Finally, on Aug.
30, 1984, Discovery roared off the
launch pad on a pillar of flame and, within eight minutes, was in orbit around Earth.
The crew got down to work and, on the first day, Mullane and Resnik deployed
the SBS-4 satellite. On the second day in space, they deployed the Syncom
satellite, the first satellite designed specifically to be launched from the shuttle.
On the third day, the crew deployed the Telstar satellite, completing all
satellite-delivery objectives of the mission. Resnik then deployed the OAST-1
solar array to 70% of its length to conduct dynamic tests on the structure. On
the fourth day, she deployed the solar array to its full length and
successfully retracted it, completing all objectives for that experiment.
Astronauts deploy (left
to right) SBS-4, Syncom IV-2/Leasat-2 and Telstar 3C during STS-41D. Image
Walker was busy with the CFES experiment. And, although the
experiment experienced two unexpected shutdowns, he was able to process about
85% of the planned samples. The unit operated for about 100 hours. Hartsfield
and Coats, meanwhile, exposed two magazines and six rolls of IMAX®
film, recording OAST-1 and satellite deployments as well as in-cabin crew
activities. Clips from the mission were used in the making of the 1985 IMAX®
film, “The Dream is Alive.” On the mission’s fifth day, concern arose over the
formation of ice on the orbiter’s waste dump nozzle. The next day, Hartsfield
used the shuttle’s robotic arm to dislodge the large chunk of ice.
Left: Walker in front
of the CFES experiment. Middle: Hartsfield loads film into the IMAX® camera. Right: The crew of STS-41D poses in the middeck.
Image Credits: NASA
On Sept. 5, 1984, the astronauts closed Discovery's payload bay doors in preparation for reentry. They
fired the shuttle’s engines to slow their velocity and begin a descent back to
Earth. Hartsfield guided Discovery to
a smooth landing at Edwards AFB, completing a flight of six days and 56
minutes. The crew had traveled 2.5 million miles, completing 97 orbits around Earth.
Left: The OAST-1 Solar Array Experiment extended from Discovery's payload bay. Right: Space Shuttle Discovery makes a perfect landing at Edwards AFB to end the STS-41D mission. Image Credits: NASA
Read recollections of the STS-41D mission by Hartsfield,
in their oral histories with the JSC
Enjoy the crew’s narration of a video
about the STS-41D mission.
STS-41D crew patch. Image Credit: NASA
STS-41D crew photo (front, left to right): R. Michael Mullane, Steven Hawley, Henry Hartsfield and Michael Coats; (back, left to right) Charles Walker and Judith Resnik. Image Credit: NASA
Space Shuttle Discovery rolls out of Rockwell’s Palmdale facility. Image Credit: NASA
Discovery atop the SCA during the cross-country ferry flight. Image Credit: NASA