Columbia Spacecraft Launches on STS-51

Columbia was NASA’s original space shuttle and served numerous microgravity experiments throughout its lifespan. Additionally, Columbia featured an external airlock/docking adaptor designed specifically to support Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions.

Just 82 seconds after liftoff, foam from ET’s left bipod ramp collided with its left wing and caused a breach that allowed atmospheric gases into the shuttle during reentry.


STS-51-C marked NASA’s second operational flight of Columbia orbiter, carrying Spacelab science lab and six crewmembers including Ulf Merbold as the first non-American astronaut on a shuttle flight.

Thomas K. Mattingly led this mission with pilot Loren J. Shriver and two mission specialists James F. Buchli and Ellison S. Onizuka serving as mission specialists. Patch manufacturers like AB Emblem and Swissartex had already begun producing Discovery patches by the time its cancellation.


STS-51-D was the sixteenth flight of NASA’s Space Shuttle program and featured deployment and retrieval of Hughes LEASAT 3 satellite. Also onboard this mission was NASA’s Long Duration Exposure Facility.

Karol Bobko, Dave Griggs, Jeff Hoffman and Rhea Seddon comprised this mission’s crew. This patch features the insignia from STS-41F with an additional tab for French payload specialist Patrick Baudry.


STS-51-E featured the ORFEUS/SPAS satellite for astronomical observations at two extreme wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum – far ultraviolet and extreme ultraviolet. The souvenir patch used the STS-41F design but added a tab honoring French Payload Specialist Patrick Baudry.

Mission Specialists Newman and Walz conducted the final of a series of generic spacewalks designed to test tools, tethers, foot restraints and tools necessary for servicing of future Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions. Also present in their cargo bay payload were an IMAX 70mm camera, Commercial Protein Crystal Growth Block II experiments (CPCG Block II) as well as Chromosome and Plant Cell Division in Space experiments.


Spacelab 2 laboratory was the focal point of this mission. Thirteen experiments from diverse fields such as life sciences, plasma physics, infrared astronomy, high energy astrophysics and technology research were carried out on board this satellite laboratory.

Spacelab 2 crewmembers conducted the Protein Crystal Growth experiment that used low gravity stability to produce larger, more uniform crystals than could ever be grown here on Earth. It marked the first time such experimental equipment had ever been sent into orbit.


STS-51-G was notable in that it marked the first Saudi Arabian space traveler, Sultan Salman Al-Saud, as a payload specialist and included a new type of deployable space telescope called an ORFEUS Orbiting Retrievable Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrometer (ORFEUS).

The crew successfully deployed three communications satellites: Morelos-1 for Mexico; ARABSAT-1B for Arab Satellite Communications Organization and Telstar-3D for AT&T Corporation. When its main engines and twin Solid Rocket Boosters ignited at T-6.6 seconds, astronauts experienced vibrations as the Shuttle began moving.


STS-51-H’s crew successfully deployed the advanced communications satellite ACTS and its Transfer Orbit Stage (TOS) during flight day one of their mission. This innovative spacecraft brings together two of the most powerful communications satellites ever deployed into orbit into one compact satellite platform – making its launch truly remarkable!

Mission Specialist Jim Newman donned a special visor as part of a medical experiment testing vision in weightlessness and also evaluated using such equipment for Shuttle navigation.


By the time Columbia took off on STS-107, she had flown 28 times – making her one of the seasoned veterans of the Shuttle program. This mission’s objective was to complete ISS truss and solar array assembly flights while also deploying three communications satellites, an Advanced Protein Crystallization Facility, and a middeck materials processing experiment.

Columbia was also the only time it ever displayed ejection seats modeled on those found in an SR-71 Blackbird, although these would eventually be removed during STS-9.


STS-51-J, the twenty-first space shuttle mission, successfully deployed a Department of Defense satellite payload into geostationary orbit. An all-military crew including Commander Karol “Bo” Bobko, Pilot Ronald John Grabe and Mission Specialists David Carl Hilmers and Robert Lee Stewart performed this mission.

Cargo bay payloads included the Orbiting Retrievable Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrometer (ORFEUS) telescope to study star formation, death and formation of interstellar clouds.


This mission showcased virtually all of the Shuttle’s abilities. The crew successfully deployed and recovered the ASTRO-SPAS payload containing Germany’s free-flying satellite ORFEUS (Orbiting Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrometer – Shuttle Pallet Satellite).

This crew conducted CHROMEX experiments to examine whether plants grown in microgravity are fertile. Mission Specialists Newman and Walz participated in a spacewalk aimed at evaluating tools, tethers and foot restraint platforms needed for servicing missions of Hubble Space Telescope in future missions.


STS-51-L was NASA’s 25th flight of its Space Shuttle program and 10th for Orbiter Challenger. This multidisciplinary mission aimed to conduct astrophysical, biomedical and educational experiments while also deploying satellites over seven flight days.

Mission was cut short 73 seconds post launch due to an explosion caused by a ruptured O-ring seal on Starboard Solid Rocket Booster.

Scroll to Top