Mission Insignia
Mission statistics
Mission nameSTS-61-A
Space shuttleChallenger
Launch pad39A
Launch dateOctober 30, 1985, 17:00:00 UTC
LandingNovember 6, 1985, 17:44:51 UTC
Mission duration7d/00:44:51
Number of orbits112
Orbital altitude207 nautical miles
Orbital inclination57°
Distance traveled4,682,148 km
Crew photo
Crew Photo
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STS-61-A was the 22nd Space Shuttle mission. It was a scientific Spacelab mission funded and controlled by West Germany - hence the non-NASA name D-1 (for Deutschland 1). It was also the last successful mission of the Space Shuttle Challenger. STS-61-A holds the record for the largest crew, eight people, aboard any single spacecraft for the entire period from launch to landing.

The German run Space Shuttle mission carried the NASA/ESA Spacelab module with 76 experiments, and was declared a success. Scientific operations were controlled by GSOC from Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany instead of the regular NASA centers.


  • Commander: Henry W. Hartsfield (Third spaceflight)
  • Pilot: Steven R. Nagel (Second spaceflight)
  • Mission Specialist 1: Bonnie J. Dunbar (First spaceflight)
  • Mission Specialist 2: James F. Buchli (Second spaceflight)
  • Mission Specialist 3: Guion S. Bluford (Second spaceflight)
  • Payload Specialist 1: Reinhard Furrer, DLR (First spaceflight)
  • Payload Specialist 2: Ernst Messerschmid, DLR (First spaceflight)
  • Payload Specialist 3: Wubbo Ockels, ESA (First spaceflight)

Backup crew

  • Payload Specialist 3: Ulf Merbold, ESA

Mission parameters

  • Mass:
    • Orbiter liftoff: 110,568 kg
    • Orbiter landing: 97,144 kg
    • Payload: 14,451 kg
  • Perigee: 319 km
  • Apogee: 331 km
  • Inclination: 57.0
  • Period: 91.0 min

Mission highlights

The Orbiter Challenger lifted off from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, KSC, at noon EST on October 30, 1985. This was the first Space Shuttle mission largely financed and operated by another nation, West Germany. It was also the first Space Shuttle flight to carry a crew of eight. The primary mission was to operate a series of experiments, almost all related to functions in microgravity, in Spacelab D-1, the fourth flight of a Spacelab. Two other mission assignments were to deploy the Global Low Orbiting Message Relay Satellite (GLOMR) out of a Getaway Special canister in the cargo bay, and operate five materials processing experiments mounted in the cargo bay on a separate device called the German Unique Support Structure.

NASA operated the Space Shuttle, and was responsible for overall safety and control functions throughout the flight. West Germany was responsible for the scientific research carried out during the seven-day mission. To fulfill this function German scientific controllers on the ground worked closely with the personnel in orbit, operating out of the German Space Operations Center at Oberpfaffenhofen, near Munich, West Germany. The orbiting crew divided into two teams, and operated 24-h a day. Communications were very good throughout the mission and the ground and orbital crews were able to interact regularly. The overall system of one Center controlling spacecraft operations and a second controlling experiment functions worked very smoothly in practice.

The GLOMR satellite was successfully deployed during the mission. The five experiments mounted on the separate structure behind the Spacelab module obtained good data. Orbiter Challenger landed on Runway 17 at Edwards AFB on November 6, 1985. The wheels stopped rolling at 12:45 p.m. EST, after a mission duration of 7 days, 0 h, and 45 min. The crew members were Henry W. Hartsfield, Jr., commander; Steven R. Nagel, pilot; Bonnie J. Dunbar, James F. Buchli and Guion S. Bluford, mission specialists; and Ernst Messerschmid and Reinhard Furrer, West Germany, along with Wubbo Ockels, European Space Agency, payload specialists, encompassed some 75 numbered experiments, most of which were performed more than once. Some of these experiments had predecessors which had returned data obtained on earlier flights. This made it possible to prepare experiment regimens that were 'second generation' with respect to technical concept and experiment installation. Almost all of them took advantage of the microgravity environment to perform work not possible, or very much more difficult to do, on Earth. The major area of concentration was materials science, in which West Germany has a well developed expertise.

The crew works in Spacelab

The primary areas of experiment concentration were: fluid physics, with experiments in capillarity, Marangoni convection, diffusion phenomena, and critical point; solidification experiments; single crystal growth; composites; biological, including cell functions, developmental processes, and the ability of plants to perceive gravity; medical, including the gravitational perceptions of humans, and their adaptation processes in space; and speed-time interaction studies of people working in space.

One equipment item of unusual interest was the Vestibular Sled, an ESA contribution consisting of a seat for a test subject that could be moved backward and forward with precisely controlled accelerations and stops, along rails fixed to the floor of the Spacelab aisle. By taking detailed measurements on a human strapped into the seat, scientists gained data on the functional organization of the human vestibular and orientation systems, and the vestibular adaptation processes under microgravity. The acceleration experiments by the sled riders were combined with thermal stimulations of the inner ear and optokinetic stimulations of the eye.

Overall, this was the most comprehensive series of experiments to date on materials processing in space and associated human activities, adding a rich store to humanity's knowledge. The data that was gained will require years of analysis.

Dedicated German Spacelab (D-1) mission conducted in long module configuration, which featured Vestibular Sled designed to give scientists data on functional organization of human vestibular and orientation systems. Spacelab D-1 encompassed 75 numbered experiments, most performed more than once. Mission included basic and applied microgravity research in fields of materials science, life sciences and technology, and communications and navigation. Though orbiter controlled from Johnson Space Center, scientific operations controlled from German Space Operations Center at Oberpfaffenhofen, near Munich. Other objectives: Global Low Orbiting Message Relay (GLOMR) satellite deployed from Get Away Special canister.

This was the Shuttle Challenger's last successful mission before the STS-51-L disaster.