STS-61-C (formerly STS-32) was the 24th mission of NASA's Space Shuttle program, and the seventh mission of Space Shuttle Columbia. It was the first time that Columbia, the first space-rated Space Shuttle orbiter to be constructed, had flown since STS-9. The mission launched from Florida's Kennedy Space Center on 12 January 1986, and landed six days later on 18 January. STS-61-C's seven-person crew included 2 future NASA Administrators: the second African-American shuttle pilot, Charles Bolden, the second sitting politician to fly in space, Representative Bill Nelson (D-FL), and the first Costa Rican-born astronaut, Franklin Chang-Diaz. It was the last shuttle mission before the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, which occurred just ten days after STS-61-C's landing.

STS-61-C SATCOM Ku-1 deployment.jpg
Satcom K1 is deployed from Columbia's payload bay
Mission typeSatellite deployment
Microgravity research
COSPAR ID1986-003A
SATCAT no.16481
Mission duration6 days, 2 hours, 3 minutes, 51 seconds
Distance travelled4,069,481 kilometers (2,528,658 mi)
Orbits completed98
Spacecraft properties
SpacecraftSpace Shuttle Columbia
Launch mass116,121 kilograms (256,003 lb)
Landing mass95,325 kilograms (210,156 lb)
Payload mass14,724 kilograms (32,461 lb)
Crew size7
Start of mission
Launch date12 January 1986, 11:55:00 (1986-01-12UTC11:55Z) UTC
Launch siteKennedy LC-39A
End of mission
Landing date18 January 1986, 13:58:51 (1986-01-18UTC13:58:52Z) UTC
Landing siteEdwards
Orbital parameters
Reference systemGeocentric
RegimeLow Earth
Perigee altitude331 kilometres (206 mi)
Apogee altitude338 kilometres (210 mi)
Inclination28.5 degrees
Period91.2 min
STS-61-c-patch.png STS-61-C crew.jpg
Back row L–R: Bill Nelson, Hawley, George Nelson,
Front row L–R: Cenker, Bolden, Gibson, Chang-Diaz 
Launch of STS-61-C

The STS-61-C flight has the distinction of having two members of its crew who later became NASA Administrator. (Pilot Charles Bolden served as NASA Administrator from July 17, 2009 to January 20, 2017 and Bill Nelson is the currently serving NASA Administrator.)


Position Astronaut
Commander Robert L. Gibson
Second spaceflight
Pilot Charles F. Bolden
First spaceflight
Mission Specialist 1 George D. Nelson
Second spaceflight
Mission Specialist 2 Steven A. Hawley
Second spaceflight
Mission Specialist 3 Franklin R. Chang-Diaz
First spaceflight
Payload Specialist 1 C. William "Bill" Nelson
Only spaceflight
Payload Specialist 2 Robert J. Cenker
Only spaceflight

Backup crewEdit

Position Astronaut
Payload Specialist 2 Gerard E. Magilton

Crew seating arrangementsEdit

Seat[1] Launch Landing  
Seats 1–4 are on the Flight Deck. Seats 5–7 are on the Middeck.
S1 Gibson Gibson
S2 Bolden Bolden
S3 G. Nelson Chang-Diaz
S4 Hawley Hawley
S5 Chang-Diaz G. Nelson
S6 B. Nelson B. Nelson
S7 Cenker Cenker

Mission backgroundEdit

STS-61-C saw Columbia return to flight for the first time since the STS-9 mission in November 1983, after having undergone major modifications over the course of 18 months by Rockwell International in California. Most notable of these modifications was the addition of the SILTS (Shuttle Infrared Leeside Temperature Sensing) pod atop Columbia's vertical stabilizer, which used an infrared camera to observe reentry heating on the shuttle's left wing and part of its fuselage. The camera was only used for a few more missions after STS-61-C, but the pod remained on Columbia for the remainder of its operational life. Smaller and more discreet modifications were also added at various points throughout the shuttle. The bulky ejection seats, which had been disabled after STS-4, were replaced with conventional seats and head-up displays for the commander and pilot were installed.[2]

The launch was originally scheduled for 18 December 1985, but the closeout of an aft orbiter compartment was delayed, and the mission was rescheduled for the following day. However, on 19 December, the countdown was stopped at T-14 seconds due to an out-of-tolerance turbine reading on the right SRB's hydraulic system.

Another launch attempt, on 6 January 1986, was terminated at T-31 seconds because of a problem in a valve in the liquid oxygen system. The countdown was recycled to T-20 minutes for a second launch attempt on the same day, but was held at T-9 minutes, and then scrubbed as the launch window expired.[3] Another attempt was made on 7 January, but was scrubbed because of bad weather at contingency landing sites at Dakar, Senegal, and Morón, Spain; yet another attempt, on 9 January, was delayed because of a problem with a main engine prevalve, and on 10 January, heavy rainfall in the launch area led to another scrub.

Mission summaryEdit

After four unsuccessful launch attempts,[4] Columbia launched successfully from Kennedy Space Center at 6:55 am EST on 12 January 1986. There were no significant anomalies reported during the launch.

The primary objective of the mission was to deploy the Satcom K1 communications satellite, second in a planned series of geosynchronous satellites owned and operated by RCA Americom; the deployment was successful. Columbia also carried a large number of small scientific experiments, including 13 Getaway Special (GAS) canisters devoted to investigations involving the effect of microgravity on materials processing, seed germination, chemical reactions, egg hatching, astronomy, atmospheric physics, and an experiment designed by Ellery Kurtz and Howard Wishnow of Vertical Horizons to determine the effects of the space environment on fine arts materials and original oil paintings, flying four of Kurtz's paintings into space. It also carried the Materials Science Laboratory-2 structure for experiments involving liquid bubble suspension by sound waves, melting and resolidification of metallic samples and container-less melting and solidification of electrically conductive specimens. Another small experiment carrier located in the payload bay was the Hitchiker G-1 (HHG-1), which carried three experiments to study film particles in the orbiter environment, test a new heat transfer system and determine the effects of contamination and atomic oxygen on ultraviolet optics materials, respectively. There were also four in-cabin experiments, three of them part of the Shuttle Student Involvement Program. The shuttle carried an experiment called the Comet Halley Active Monitoring Program (CHAMP), consisting of a 35 mm camera intended to photograph Halley's Comet through the aft flight deck overhead window. This experiment proved unsuccessful because of battery problems.

STS-61-C Landing

According to Bolden, in addition to deploying the RCA satellite, Cenker operated a classified experiment for the United States Air Force during the mission. Bolden was only told that it was a prototype for an infrared imaging camera.[4]

STS-61-C was originally scheduled to last seven days, but NASA decided to end it after four because its delays had delayed the next flight, STS-51-L.[4] It was rescheduled to land on 17 January, but this was brought forward by one day. However, the landing attempt on 16 January was cancelled because of unfavorable weather at Edwards Air Force Base. Continued bad weather forced another wave-off the following day. The flight was extended one more day to provide for a landing opportunity at Kennedy Space Center on 18 January – this was in order to avoid time lost in an Edwards AFB landing and turnaround. However, bad weather at the KSC landing site resulted in yet another wave-off.

Columbia finally landed at Edwards AFB on its fifth landing attempt[4] at 5:59 am PST, on 18 January. The mission lasted a total of 6 days, 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 51 seconds. STS-61-C was the last successful Space Shuttle flight before the Challenger disaster, which occurred on 28 January 1986, only 10 days after Columbia's return. Accordingly, commander Gibson later called the STS-61-C mission "The End of Innocence" for the Shuttle Program.[5]

Nelson, the Florida congressman, had hoped to receive a Florida orange after landing in the state. The personnel at Edwards greeted the crew with what Bolden described as "a peck basket of California oranges and grapefruits".[4]

Wake-up callsEdit

NASA began a tradition of playing music to astronauts during the Gemini program, and first used music to wake up a flight crew during Apollo 15. Each track is specially chosen, often by the astronauts' families, and usually has a special meaning to an individual member of the crew, or is applicable to their daily activities.[6]

Flight Day Song Artist/Composer
Day 2 "Liberty Bell March" John Philip Sousa
Day 3 "Heart of Gold" Neil Young
Day 4 "Stars and Stripes Forever" John Philip Sousa

Gag photoEdit

During the same session as the official crew photo, the NASA photographer took a gag photo of the STS-61-C crew with their heads and faces obscured by their helmets and visors.

Gag photo of the STS-61-C crew.

See alsoEdit


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

  1. ^ "STS-61C". Spacefacts. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  2. ^ "STS-61C Press Kit" (PDF). NASA. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  3. ^ Some Trust in Chariots: The Space Shuttle Challenger Experience
  4. ^ a b c d e Bolden, Charles F. (6 January 2004). "Charles F. Bolden". NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project (Interview). Interviewed by Johnson, Sandra; Wright, Rebecca; Ross-Nazzal, Jennifer. Houston, Texas. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  5. ^ Evans, Ben (11 January 2014). "Mission 61C: The Original 'Mission Impossible' (Part 1)". Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  6. ^ Fries, Colin (25 June 2007). "Chronology of Wakeup Calls" (PDF). NASA. Retrieved 13 August 2007.

External linksEdit