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HomeNASA“By no means Imagine the Magnificence”: Remembering STS-52, Thirty Years On

“By no means Imagine the Magnificence”: Remembering STS-52, Thirty Years On

Thirty years in the past, STS-52 launched on a very worldwide mission, with U.S., European and Canadian participation. Picture Credit score: NASA, by way of Joachim Becker/

“A really lengthy six seconds,” mentioned STS-52 Commander Jim Wetherbee of his ultimate moments on Earth, “as a result of, by now, your mind’s working extra time!” Thirty years in the past immediately, on 22 October 1992, Wetherbee and his 5 crewmates—veteran U.S. astronauts Mike Baker, Invoice Shepherd, Tammy Jernigan and Lacy Veach, plus Canada’s Steve MacLean—launched aboard shuttle Columbia on a ten-day voyage to deploy an Italian satellite tv for pc and carry out a large number of U.S., European and Canadian experiments.

Video Credit score: Nationwide House Society (NSS)

The six seconds about which Wetherbee spoke was the span of time from the ignition of the three House Shuttle Primary Engines (SSMEs) to the liftoff of Columbia from historic Pad 39B on the Kennedy House Middle (KSC) in Florida. And when these six seconds have been performed, and the dual Strong Rocket Boosters (SRBs) roared to life to energy STS-52 airborne and off Planet Earth, the feeling may very well be described utilizing simply two phrases: Velocity and Energy.

“The car has an incredible quantity of pace,” Wetherbee mirrored, “and great energy, as you’re heading uphill.” Passing by way of the section of most aerodynamic stress (colloquially nicknamed “Max Q”), the six astronauts skilled oscillations of between plus and minus two levels per second.

Official STS-52 crew portrait, despatched to this writer by Commander Jim Wetherbee. Picture Credit score: NASA/Ben Evans private assortment

This was unseen within the ascent footage. However it was acutely noticeable to the crew.

“And that’s an attention-grabbing feeling in itself,” Wetherbee continued. “You’ll be able to really feel each one of many 7.5 million kilos of thrust and, when it begins transferring round, it’s fairly attention-grabbing.”

Jim Wetherbee (far proper) waves to well-wishers, as he leads the STS-52 crew out to Pad 39B on 22 October 1992. Picture Credit score: NASA, by way of Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts

As NASA’s oldest shuttle, Columbia was embarking on her thirteenth house voyage on STS-52. Throughout a profession which had spanned greater than a decade at that stage, she had flown the very first mission of this system, examined the Canadian-built robotic arm for the primary time, deployed the primary industrial satellites, carried the primary Spacelab and the primary overseas astronaut on a U.S. house car.

Main payloads for STS-52 have been Italy’s Laser Geodynamics Satellite tv for pc (LAGEOS)-II, destined for a excessive orbit to conduct exact measurements of tectonic-plate shifting inside Earth’s floor. And on the rear of Columbia’s payload bay was the U.S. Microgravity Payload, containing three supplies analysis experiments.

Columbia roars aloft at 1:09 p.m. EDT on 22 October 1992. Picture Credit score: NASA, by way of Joachim Becker/

It’s attention-grabbing that Wetherbee was not initially anticipated to command STS-52 in any respect. After his first shuttle mission, STS-32 in January 1990, he briefly skilled as a backup crewman for the time-critical STS-41 flight to deploy the Ulysses photo voltaic probe, earlier than being named in December 1990 to pilot STS-46.

However circumstances modified in the summertime of 1991, when a number of skilled shuttle commanders retired and prompted NASA to reassign “rookie” pilot Andy Allen to Wetherbee’s seat and promote Wetherbee himself to the command of STS-52. Becoming a member of him within the pilot’s seat was Mike Baker, who beforehand held the identical publish on STS-43, veteran mission specialists Veach, Shepherd and Jernigan and first-timer MacLean.

Video Credit score: NASA, by way of ShuttleSource

Authentic plans referred to as for Columbia to launch on 15 October 1992, producing the shortest landing-to-launch interval by a single orbiter—simply 98 days—within the post-Challenger shuttle period. Nevertheless, this date slipped by one week, as a result of suspected cracks within the liquid hydrogen coolant manifold in one in every of Columbia’s major engines.

Relatively than conducting a painstaking X-ray evaluation of the harm, NASA determined the warning was the higher a part of valor and changed the engine. Nonetheless, when Wetherbee and his crew lastly rose from Earth at 1:09 p.m. EDT on 22 October 1992, they set a brand new post-Challenger landing-to-launch report of simply 105 days.

Italy’s LAGEOS-II satellite tv for pc departs Columbia’s payload bay. Picture Credit score: NASA, by way of Joachim Becker/

The shortest interval ever achieved in your entire shuttle period was 50 days. That was set between the maiden touchdown of Atlantis on 7 October 1985 and her return to house, seven weeks later, on 26 November.

STS-52’s launch was, nevertheless, itself postponed by a few hours on the twenty second, as a result of unacceptable crosswinds on the Shuttle Touchdown Facility (SLF), which Wetherbee and Baker would use if an emergency compelled a Return to Launch Website (RTLS) abort. Discussions between members of the Mission Administration Group (MMT), chaired by former astronaut Brewster Shaw, concluded that though the crosswinds exceeded flight guidelines, they have been protected sufficient for Columbia to go.

Tammy Jernigan works aboard Columbia throughout STS-52. Picture Credit score: NASA, by way of Joachim Becker/

Ascent Flight Director Jeff Bantle’s reservations have been overruled and Shaw elected to proceed with the launch, primarily based on simulations which verified that Wetherbee may nonetheless brake the shuttle to a protected cease on the runway within the occasion of an RTLS. “We accepted Jeff’s suggestion,” Shaw mentioned later, “primarily based on his interpretation of the rules and made a administration resolution that went in a unique course.”

As STS-52 ticked right down to launch, it did so towards the backdrop of fifty earlier shuttle flights, one in every of which—tragic Mission 51L on 28 January 1986—had failed to succeed in its vacation spot. That half-century of missions had seen the deployment of over 50 satellites for communications and astronomy, reconnaissance and intelligence and science and expertise. Payloads had been retrieved and introduced again to Earth or re-boosted again into orbit.

Floating freely in entrance of Columbia’s overhead home windows, an historical Hawaiian adze is backdropped by the Hawaiian islands, as seen on STS-52. Picture Credit score: NASA

Spacewalkers had made 16 spacewalks to impact repairs, upkeep and follow building strategies for a future house station. And scientists had labored on 9 Spacelab flights dedicated to life and microgravity sciences, fluid physics and astrophysics.

As STS-52 headed into a transparent Florida sky, 30 years in the past, immediately, Wetherbee and his crew have been starting the second half-century of shuttle operations. Throughout that second half-century of flights—which lasted by way of the autumn of 2000—the shuttle would attain but larger heights of accomplishment.

The STS-52 crew, pictured throughout their ten-day voyage. From left are Invoice Shepherd, Jim Wetherbee, Tammy Jernigan, Steve MacLean, Lacy Veach and Mike Baker. Picture Credit score: NASA, by way of Joachim Becker/

Between October 1992 and October 2000, 4 shuttles supported 9 dockings with Russia’s Mir house station, launched 27 main payloads—together with the Chandra X-ray Observatory—and lifted the preliminary modules of the Worldwide House Station (ISS) to orbit. NASA’s scientific showpiece, the $1.5 billion Hubble House Telescope, was dramatically introduced again from the brink of catastrophe by shuttle spacewalkers and a semi-permanent presence of U.S. astronauts in house was established.

However extra importantly, maybe, the second half-century of shuttle flights additionally noticed extra women and men granted the chance to see the Dwelling Planet from orbit. And for STS-52 astronaut Lacy Veach, who would die from most cancers lower than three years later, the sight of Earth in all its grandeur was well worth the journey. “You’ll be able to by no means imagine the fantastic thing about Island Earth,” he as soon as remarked, “till you see it in its entirety from house.”

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