Discovery’s First Flight, Guy Bluford Makes History, and an “Icicle”

Here are two NASA missions you need to know about.

One of the perks of having researched, written, recorded, and released a podcast episode every day for an entire year is that I read a lot about space history. Many of the stories I read about are often overlooked or overshadowed. Here are two quick and timely ones about a person and missions you should know about.

The Space Shuttle Challenger lifted off during the early morning hours of August 30th, 1983; a beautiful night launch and the first of the Shuttle program. This six-day mission was also the first time that an African American went into space. Guy Bluford flew into space four times, twice on the Shuttle Challenger and Twice on Discovery. At the time of entering the Astronaut program, Guy was an officer and fighter pilot in the United States Air Force. In addition to his career as a pilot, Guy received advanced degrees in science and engineering as well as an MBA.

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Guy Bluford is pictured here during STS-8, as he exercises for an experiment carried on-board the Shuttle Challenger.

You can read more about Guy here, be sure to check out his astronaut biography. During his first mission, STS-8, the Shuttle crew launched the TDRS-1 satellite into orbit. If you listen to my podcast you may recall that these satellites provide communication capabilities between the Shuttle and ground controllers in Houston. TDRS-1 was operational until 2009, more than exceeding its seven-year design life.

I also highly recommend this piece on remembering Guy’s historic flight, “Guy Bluford Remembered 30 Years Later.”

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Discovery’s first launch, it doesn’t get more picturesque than this.

On August 30th, 1984, The Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off on its first mission. Onboard Discovery for STS-41D was an IMAX camera used for filming The Dream is Alive, one of my favorite space movies. Astronauts on Discovery filmed satellite launches that featured prominently in that IMAX movie.

During this mission, they also tested the deployment of an experimental solar wing. This wing extended out 102 feet and was 13 feet wide. It tested solar cells and a deployment mechanism that demonstrated the feasibility of this type of design for use on the International Space Station.

“I don’t know, I’m kind of an amateur historian, so I felt a little bad at peeing in these historic bags, but we had to do what we had to do.”

On a funny note. This mission had a problem with the waste collection system on Discovery. An “icicle” formed on the outside of the spacecraft where the Orbiter’s waste venting system was located. At first, ground controllers thought they could sublimate the icicle by orienting the Shuttle in a way that would keep the affected side of the spacecraft pointed towards the sun. This reduced the size of the icicle, but it was still lodged in place. Eventually, Discovery’s robotic arm was used to break the ice free of the orbiter.

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The “icicle” in question. According to NASA- “A collection of ice that developed around an external nozzle on Discovery’s port side mid fuselage sails by the spacecraft on Sept. 4, 1984, following a successful attempt to remove the troublesome buildup using the remote manipulator system (RMS) arm. A crew member on the flight deck alertly grabbed a 70-mm camera and recorded the final look at the chunk.”

While researching this mission I was reading through the Johnson Space Center oral history interview with astronaut Charles Walker. He was one of the crew members on Discovery’s first flight, and he had a few funny things to say about their mission. NASA had prepared for a possible failure in the waste collection system and had kindly included waste collection bags that were left over from the Apollo program. Walker joked that “I don’t know, I’m kind of an amateur historian, so I felt a little bad at peeing in these historic bags, but we had to do what we had to do.”

You must check out the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project if you’re interested in oral history.

Picture Credits- NASA.

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Hosts The Space Shot & The Cosmosphere Podcast. Podcaster. Techie. Bibliophile. Space science & history nerd.

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