Steady Mission

In general, the mission was proceeding extremely well, both in terms of the research in the USML-1 module and the performance of Columbia herself. A few minor problems did surface, however: the troublesome text-and-graphics system - similar to a fax machine - suffered a paper jam and printed messages, including the RCRS repair instructions, had to be sent up to the Shuttle's teleprinter instead. The crew

A steady mission

A steady mission

Dick Richards and Bonnie Dunbar eat a meal on Columbia's middeck.

also tried out a new space-to-ground modem, which provided an email link between themselves and Mission Control.

While the science crew was busy in the Spacelab module, Richards and Bowersox kept their ship in a 'gravity gradient' attitude - whereby Columbia's tail was pointed Earthwards and her nose 12 degrees 'off her direction of travel - which provided a steady platform for the many sensitive microgravity experiments on board. This attitude had been used on previous missions and used the natural flow of trace gases in low-Earth orbit to steady the Shuttle and obviate the need to make thruster firings, which could ruin the experimental results.

They did, however, slightly adjust Columbia's attitude on a couple of occasions to expose different parts of her airframe to the Sun to keep them warm and within minimum-temperature requirements. This included, on 2 July, pointing her belly at the Sun for several hours to help to maintain the air pressures and temperatures in her landing gear tyres at acceptable levels. Overall, the crew seemed to be enjoying their longer-than-normal stay in space and each astronaut was given two half-days off-duty to avoid being overworked.

''We're trying to pace ourselves and our timeline,'' Dunbar had told journalists before Columbia left Earth. ''We will come home, hopefully, as refreshed as we left.'' Now, midway through their mission, Richards was more than happy with USML-1's progress. DeLucas, too, described himself as ''relaxed'' after his first period of off-duty time. Then, at 1:14 pm on 6 July, the entire crew quietly exceeded Columbia's previous endurance record of just under 11 days, set at the end of the STS-32 mission two-and-a-half years before. Mission Control even played them the Zodiacs' 1960s song 'Stay' in honour of their achievement.

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