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STS-51-J was the 21st NASA Space Shuttle mission and the first flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis. It launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on 3 October 1985, carrying a payload for the U.S. Department of Defense, and landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on 7 October.

STS51J First Flight of Atlantis.jpg
Liftoff of the first flight of Atlantis and the STS 51-J mission.
Mission typeSatellite deployment
OperatorNASA, Department of Defense
COSPAR ID1985-092A
SATCAT no.16115
Mission duration4 days, 1 hour, 44 minutes, 38 seconds
Distance travelled2,707,948 kilometres (1,682,641 mi)
Orbits completed64
Spacecraft properties
SpacecraftSpace Shuttle Atlantis
Landing mass86,400 kilograms (190,400 lb)
Payload mass19,968 kilograms (44,022 lb)
Crew size5
MembersKarol J. Bobko
Ronald J. Grabe
David C. Hilmers
Robert L. Stewart
William A. Pailes
Start of mission
Launch date3 October 1985, 15:15:30 (1985-10-03UTC15:15:30Z) UTC
Launch siteKennedy LC-39A
End of mission
Landing date7 October 1985, 17:00:08 (1985-10-07UTC17:00:09Z) UTC
Landing siteEdwards Runway 23
Orbital parameters
Reference systemGeocentric
RegimeLow Earth
Perigee altitude475 kilometres (295 mi)
Apogee altitude484 kilometres (301 mi)
Inclination28.5 degrees
Period94.2 min
Sts-51-j-patch.png STS-51-J crew.jpg
L-R: Stewart, Hilmers, Bobko, Pailes, Grabe 


Position Astronaut
Commander Karol J. Bobko
Third and last spaceflight
Pilot Ronald J. Grabe
First spaceflight
Mission Specialist 1 David C. Hilmers
First spaceflight
Mission Specialist 2 Robert L. Stewart
Second and last spaceflight
Payload Specialist 1 William A. Pailes, MSE
Only spaceflight

Backup crewEdit

Position Astronaut
Payload Specialist 1 Michael W. Booen, MSE
First spaceflight

Crew notesEdit

Before William Pailes was assigned to the STS-51-J flight, Richard M. Mullane was rumored to have been assigned as Mission Specialist 3 on his second trip to space.

Mission summaryEdit

Declassified picture showing the DSCS-III satellites before deployment.
Space Shuttle Atlantis lands on the dry desert lakebed of Edwards Air Force Base at the end of the STS-51-J mission.

STS-51-J launched on 3 October 1985, at 11:15 EDT, from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The launch was delayed by 22 minutes and 30 seconds due to a problem with a main engine liquid hydrogen prevalve close remote power controller; the controller was showing a faulty "on" indication.

The mission was the second shuttle flight totally dedicated to deploying a Department of Defense payload, after STS-51-C. Its cargo was classified, but it was reported that two (USA-11 and USA-12) DSCS-III (Defense Satellite Communications System) satellites were launched into stationary orbits by an Inertial Upper Stage. The DSCS satellites used X-band frequencies (8/7 GHz). Each DSCS-III satellite had a design life of ten years, although several of the DSCS satellites have far exceeded their design life expectancy.

The mission was deemed successful. After a flight lasting 4 days, 1 hour and 45 minutes, Atlantis landed on Runway 23 at Edwards Air Force Base at 13:00 EDT on 7 October 1985. During STS-51-J, mission commander Karol Bobko became the first astronaut to fly on three different shuttle orbiters, and the only astronaut to fly on the maiden voyages of two different orbiters.

Mission InsigniaEdit

The 51-J mission insignia, designed by Atlantis's first crew, pays tribute to the Statue of Liberty and the ideas it symbolizes, but also as not to emphasize the 'classified' nature of the mission like the first one did. The historical gateway figure bears additional significance for Astronauts Karol J. Bobko, mission commander; and Ronald J. Grabe, pilot, both New York Natives.

See alsoEdit


  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

  • Day, Dwayne (2010). "A lighter shade of black: the (non) mystery of STS-51J". The Space Review. Retrieved 4 January 2010.

External linksEdit