The Ace Moving Company

It was with these two precious satellite cargoes tucked into her payload bay that Columbia and four of the most unprotected astronauts in history headed for orbit at 12:19 pm on 11 November 1982. Despite a minor problem during the countdown when one of the primary GPCs failed to synchronise properly with the other three computers, the Shuttle nevertheless lifted-off precisely on time at the beginning of a shorter-than-usual, 40-minute 'window'. The shortness of the time available was partly due to the need for daylight at Edwards and other contingency sites in case an emergency landing became necessary.

Predominantly, however, the window's short duration was because the deployment of the two satellites had to be timed in order to obtain the correct Sun-angle when they were ready to make the first use of their electricity-generating solar cells. Columbia's ascent into orbit was satisfactory, with no major problems, although the performance of the SRBs was slightly lower than expected. Nonetheless, corrections to their parachutes made in the wake of the STS-4 failure worked and both were spotted descending towards the Atlantic Ocean at a radar-clocked speed of 27 m/s. Both parachutes remained intact and attached to the boosters.

Immediately after Brand and Overmyer completed two OMS burns to establish Columbia in her correct orbit, the two Mission Specialists unstrapped and began to fold away and stow their collapsible seats. During the course of their first day in space, they activated the second 'real' GAS canister in the payload bay: an X-ray study of the solidification of liquid metals, sponsored by the West German Ministry of Research and Technology, which unfortunately failed completely. It would later become apparent that the GAS canister's battery had leaked its electrolyte and was unable to properly switch on the experiment.

Another problem noted by the crew, just two-and-a-half hours into the mission, was the failure of one of the Shuttle's three cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitors located on the forward flight deck control panel. In the early days, before the installation of advanced 'glass cockpits' in the late 1990s, there were four such monitors on board Columbia: three on the control panel in front of the Commander and Pilot, needed to display thousands of different functions and a multitude of data, and one on the aft flight deck for payload operations.

The aft-mounted CRT would not be needed for re-entry, so on 14 November Mission Control radioed up a procedure to switch the cables between the failed monitor and the healthy one at the back of the flight deck. This forced them to switch off the aft CRT, but ensured that Columbia was able to return home with three fully functional monitors on her forward control panel. Several other minor issues cropped up with a troublesome RCS thruster, which showed signs of a possible leak, and Brand and Overmyer kept a close eye on it for the rest of the mission.

These problems paled into insignificance, however, by the end of Day One, when Lenoir successfully accomplished the first commercial launch of a communications satellite from the Shuttle. Six hours before the historic deployment, updated computations of Columbia's orbit - including the spacecraft's attitude, velocity and orbital inclination - were radioed to Lenoir from the SBS control centre. Then, 40 minutes before deployment, Brand and Overmyer manoeuvred the Shuttle to the correct attitude with the open payload bay facing into the direction of travel.

The restraint arms pulled away from the satellite, Lenoir flipped a switch to open the Pacman jaws and imparted a 50-rpm spin rate on the payload. This steady rotation would help to stabilise SBS-3 during its deployment. Next, at 8:20:18 pm on 11 November, during Columbia's sixth orbit of Earth, he issued the command for explosive bolts to fire and release a Marman clamp that held SBS-3 and its PAM-D upper stage in place. Seemingly in slow motion, the spinning payload departed the bay at just 90 cm/s, as Allen enthusiastically fired off pictures.

The 'Ace Moving Company' 61

Immediately after leaving the Shuttle, command of the satellite passed to the SBS control centre in Washington, DC. Fifteen minutes later, Brand and Overmyer backed Columbia away to a distance of 42 km, aiming their spacecraft's belly at the satellite to protect its delicate topside from the PAM-D's exhaust. At 9:05 pm, an onboard timer fired the upper stage's perigee motor for about 100 seconds to boost SBS-3 into the highly elliptical transfer orbit. Overall, the PAM-D's first Shuttle use was described as "satisfactory" and it separated from the satellite a few minutes after the completion of its burn.

Shortly thereafter, SBS-3's omni-directional antenna was successfully raised and, over the next two days, it used its own Thiokol-built solid-propellant apogee motor to insert itself into the required near-geosynchronous orbit and then manoeuvred onto its 'slot' at 94 degrees West longitude. During this time, it opened out to nearly twice its 'stowed' height and deployed its communications payload.

A little over a day into the mission, Brand and Overmyer recircularised the Shuttle's orbit with a burst of the powerful OMS engines. This set them up for the second satellite deployment - that of Telesat's ANIK-C3 - just a few hours later, under the supervision of Allen.

Launching the Canadian satellite followed much the same routine as that employed with SBS-3. During the afternoon of 12 November, Brand and Overmyer performed another two OMS burns in support of the ANIK-C3 deployment and would make yet another - their sixth in total - after the satellite had been set free to provide a safe separation distance before the PAM-D ignition. Following Lenoir's procedure of the previous day, Allen opened the sunshade, spun-up the satellite and ejected it from the payload bay at 8:24:11 pm, during Columbia's 22nd orbit as she flew over Hawaii.

A perfect firing of the PAM-D some 45 minutes later duly inserted ANIK-C3 into an elliptical transfer orbit that, like SBS-3, was a few hundred kilometres higher than its planned 'operational' orbital slot. The satellite then used its own motor to place itself into a near-geosynchronous orbit; by 16 November, it was on-station at 114.9 degrees West longitude, directly in line with Edmonton in Alberta. The astronauts celebrated by turning on music from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and unfurled a sign that would epitomise the growing maturity of the Shuttle as a 'space truck'.

The sign, which has been reproduced countless times in books about the reusable spacecraft and its achievements, is surrounded in a famous photograph by the four STS-5 astronauts. Held by Brand, it read: 'Satellite Deployment by The Ace Moving Company. Fast and Courteous Service. We Deliver.' Floating weightlessly around their skipper, head-to-head, were Overmyer, Allen and Lenoir. The idea for the sign, said Brand, actually came from Allen: ''Joe coined the term 'Ace Moving Company', because we moved stuff to space. We put up a sign that [Joe had] made out ahead of time.''

It was a triumphant moment for both the crew and NASA as a whole. After more than a decade of planning and development, maddening problems with thermal protection tiles and main engines, boosters and fuel tanks and billions of dollars poured into the programme, it seemed that the Shuttle was finally beginning to prove its commercial worth. It still, as many astronauts pointed out, had nowhere to shuttle to - certainly, no space station was officially on NASA's

SBS-3 departs Columbia's payload bay on 11 November 1982.

radar yet - but it seemed to be making access to space routine, which was one of its most important goals.

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