The U.S. space shuttle, Challenger, glided safely back to.earth on April 9, 1983 with a perfect landing on a desert runway. The four astronauts swooped through clear skies to touch down on a 4,500-metre-long concrete strip on California’s the Mojave Desert.
The space shuttle Challenger, second ship in a fleet of four reusable U.S. spacecraft, lifted off the launch pad at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida at 1.30 P.M. Eastern Standard Time (18.30 GMT) on April 5, 1983, cheered by an estimated one million spectators.
Challenger, named after a U.S. navy ship that helped chart the far reaches of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans from 1872 to 1876, carried the world’s largest operational satellite and four astronauts, commander Paul Weitz, pilot Karol Bobko, and mission specialists Donald Peterson and Story Musgrave.
The 1.2 billion dollar spaceship began its inaugural flight after two and a half months of troubles. It was the most trouble-plagued launch of the shuttle programme, with leaks developing in all three of the craft’s rockets resulting in a 10-week delay in the launch. But everything went flawlessly as it thundered up into a brilliantly clear sky, leaving a serpentine trail of white smoke over the Atlantic.
Two astronauts floated out into the open cargo bay of the space shuttle on April 7 for the first American space walk in nine years. Story Musgrave was first through Challenger’s airlock hatch, followed by Donald Peterson. Both wore 2 million dollar spacesuits for the excursion planned to last 3.1/2 hours. Thiy spent more than three hours breathing pure oxygen to purge their systems of nitrogen that could give them the bends once in space. Televison pictures had shown them hanging from racks on the wall of the airlock while they breathed.
The two astronauts floated into the vacuum about 280 kilometres above the Pacific Ocean, primarily to test the ghostly looking walk blot pression their acts B of here pressure suits. The suits developed problems during the last shuttle flight five months ago and forced the cancellation then of a space walk. Musgrave and Peterson, connected to Challenger by safety wires, read off a series of spacesuit pressure and battery power readings before the ship moved out of radio range.
The suits store oxygen, drinking water and food, and give protection against radiation, micro-meteorites and extremes of heat and cold. Before leaving the Challenger, the astronauts breathed oxygen for more than three hours to flush from their systems the nitrogen that could give them decompression sickness outside. Commander Paul Weitz and pilot Karol Bobko controlled Challenger and monitored the walk from outside the cabin.
The two-million-kilogram orbiter was powered into orbit from its launch site at the edge of Atlantic by the quick-burn thrust of its two solid rocket boosters. This 2,250,000 kilogram of thrust carried the shuttle upwards 37 kilometres in only two minutes before the boosters fell away from the orbiter. The 30,390-kilogram external fuel tank carrying liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel dropped off nine minutes into the flight. Challenger circled 298 kilometres above the earth at a speed of 27,200 kilometres per hour, completing an orbit every 90 minutes.
Although the five-day mission was Challenger’s first flight, it was the sixth in the shuttle programme. Earlier Columbia had completed four test flights and one operational mission.
Challenger, on its second misson in the third week of June, is carrying the first American woman into orbit and will be the first to land at its Kennedy Space Centre launching base. It also will launch and retrieve a free-flying satellite with the 15-metre long mechanical arm tested on early missions, and the flight will feature some potentially spectacular maneuvers around the satellite, which will be televising Challenger in action from a new perspective.