Columbia launched from Kennedy Space Center on December 2, 1990 at 1:49 AM EST and landed at Edwards AFB on December 10 at 9:54 PM PST. The shuttle orbited 144 times at an altitude of 190 nautical miles at an inclination of 28.45 degrees and travelled 3.7 million miles. The mission lasted 8 days, 23 hours, 5 minutes, and 8 seconds.
The primary objectives were round-the-clock observations of the celestial sphere in ultraviolet and x-ray astronomy with the ASTRO-1 observatory consisting of four telescopes: Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope (HUT); Wisconsin Ultraviolet Photo-Polarimeter Experiment (WUPPE); Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (UIT); and Broad Band X-Ray Telescope (BBXRT).
Ultraviolet telescopes mounted on Spacelab elements in the cargo bay were to be operated in shifts by flight crew. Loss of both data display units (used for pointing telescopes and operating experiments) during mission impacted crew-aiming procedures and forced ground teams at Marshall Space Flight Center to aim ultraviolet telescopes with fine-tuning by flight crew. BBXRT, also mounted in cargo bay, was directed from outset by ground-based operators at Goddard Space Flight Center and not affected.
Other experiments: Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment-2 (SAREX-2); ground-based experiment to calibrate electro-optical sensors at Air Force Maui Optical Site (AMOS) in Hawaii; and crew conducted Space Classroom Program: Assignment: The Stars, to spark student interest in science, math and technology. Crew experienced trouble dumping waste water due to clogged drain, but managed using spare containers. The mission was cut short one day due to impending bad weather at primary landing site, Edwards Air Force Base, CA. Science teams at Marshall and Goddard Space Flight Centers estimated 70 percent of planned science data achieved.
Columbia was crewed by Commander Vance D. Brand, Pilot Guy S. Gardner, Mission Specialists Jeffrey A. Hoffman, John M. Lounge, and Robert A. Parker, and Payload Specialists Samuel T. Durrance and Robert A. Parise.