Theres Only One Jerry Ross

It was realised that if Columbia set off as planned on the 24th, she would set a new record for the shortest interval between two Shuttle flights - just seven days. This would beat the previous 10-day record jointly held by missions STS-51D and STS-51B in April 1985 and STS-61C and the ill-fated STS-51L (Challenger) in January 1986. "From a programme standpoint, we have no concerns," said Brewster Shaw of the Mission Management Team. "If somebody is not ready, we will wait until they are. But if everyone is comfortable with flying on Saturday [24 April], then we will go fly."

As he prepared for his next attempt, Nagel happily received some advice from fellow astronaut Jim Wetherbee, who had led Columbia's previous mission. "He said he forgot to tell me that when you turn the key, you're supposed to jiggle it to get it started,'' Nagel joked. "So now I think we'll get going.'' Unfortunately, fate had one more card to play before letting STS-55 fly. Nine hours before liftoff on 24 April, an intermittent power problem was picked up by technicians in one of the IMUs. The device was replaced and launch rescheduled for the 26th.

"We're disappointed," said Rudolph Teuwsen, a spokesman for DARA, the German space agency, after the 24 April scrub, "but it would have been far worse to have launched and then come back without completing the science.'' Throughout the two-day postponement, Columbia's crew remained in Florida and finally set off at precisely 2:50 pm on the 26th. The launch did indeed set a new record of nine days between two Shuttle missions and the spacecraft's ascent was trouble-free.

Shortly after they reached orbit, the crew found that there was not one Jerry Ross on board Columbia, but two\ "Steve [Nagel] had arranged with some of the guys to take a large-sized picture of what he had taken of me looking in one of the rear windows of the orbiter [during a spacewalk] on STS-37. It's my smiling face in my spacesuit, looking in the window, and he's taken a picture of me looking in.

"He'd arranged to have one of those pictures cut out so it fit perfectly into one of those windows, and the window was covered by a cardboard [panel] for launch, so that dirt doesn't get under [it]. He knew I was going to be taking that panel off so I could look out the window to set up cameras for opening the payload bay doors after we got onto orbit. So there I am, pulling this thing off, and I'm looking at this thing in the window and it's me looking at myself, and I started laughing\ It was hilarious\

"Charlie, Steve and Tom were up in the front [of the flight deck] and they were getting ready for an OMS burn or doing some checklist procedures and they thought Ross had lost it back there\ I was just laughing hilariously. Then they turned around and saw the picture up there and Steve had actually forgot[ten] that they were going to put that thing in there. But it was great\''

Under the supervision of a now-calmer Ross, the Spacelab module and USS pallet and their experiments were activated and powered up within hours of reaching orbit. "We've got Jerry hard at work in [the lab],'' Tom Henricks told Mission Control as the Payload Commander busied himself with setting the module up for what was intended to be nine days of around-the-clock research. Nagel, Henricks, Ross and Walter comprised the Blue Team, while Precourt, Harris and Schlegel were the Reds for STS-55.

'There's only one Jerry Ross' 189

'There's only one Jerry Ross' 189

The STS-55 crew in the Spacelab-D2 module. Front row (left to right) are Tom Henricks, Steve Nagel, Ulrich Walter and Charlie Precourt and back row are Bernard Harris, Hans Schlegel and Jerry Ross.

''There was [also] a Crew C, which was the Shuttle crew [as a whole],'' Ross said later. ''So you basically had three different teams that were working. I always tried to have a tag-up at each shift handover so that we could tell the oncoming crew where we were at, what we got done, any problems that were going on, a summary of all the flight notes that had been sent up and everything else, so that we made sure we had a good, clean handover. I think a couple of times during the flight I gave little pep talks.

''I also made sure they'd go to sleep on time so they'd get the right amount of rest, even though I wasn't. I probably didn't get more than five hours of sleep a night for the whole time we were up there, and when I got back on the ground, I was just flat wiped out. Part of it was because I was working extra time in the lab to try to make sure that we kept up with the timelines [and] part was that I don't sleep well in the bunks we had. [They] are like coffins; they're really small. I couldn't even turn over in them. And there's still an ambient noise of people working out there, getting their food and eating, and knocking around and stuff, and my brain was going a million miles an hour. I was thinking about all we'd done that day and what we needed to do the next day. I'm kinda that way! I'm kinda hyper!''

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