Spacelab Remembered 30 Years Later
November 29, 2013

Thursday Marked 30th Anniversary Of Spacelab-1 Launch

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The first European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut traveled into space alongside the first Spacelab reusable laboratory 30 years ago Thursday, marking the organization’s inaugural entry into manned spaceflight.

That astronaut, Ulf Merbold, became the first non-American to participate in a space shuttle mission when he departed from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 28, 1983, the ESA explained in a statement.

“The six astronauts on Spacelab-1 worked in two teams on 12-hour shifts, allowing for continuous operations,” the agency added. “They performed over 70 experiments in solar physics, space plasma physics, astronomy, Earth observation, material science, technology and life sciences."

Merbold and his crewmates traveled onboard Columbia as part of NASA’s ninth space shuttle mission. They spent a little over 10 days in space and orbited the Earth 166 times before landing on December 8, the ESA said.

Spacelab-1 was a collaboration involving both NASA and the ESA, with Europe funding, designing and building the laboratory. The ESA also delivered, at no cost, the engineering model, the first flight unit and ground equipment in return for a shared first mission.

Merbold was among 53 astronaut candidates submitted by ESA member nations in 1978, and one of four selected, along with Wubbo Ockels of the Netherlands, Claude Nicollier of Switzerland and Franco Malerba of Italy. Merbold was selected to fly the first Spacelab mission, with Ockels serving as his back-up.

“Between 1983 and 1998, Spacelab modules flew on the Space Shuttle 22 times and totaled 244 days in orbit,” the ESA said. “Experiments surveyed the possibilities of weightless research in many scientific areas that led to space-age metals used in mass-produced smartphones and revealed areas of space research that show promise in treating chronic muscle diseases.”

“Many of Spacelab’s features live on in space hardware that is flying above us today,” the agency added. “The pressure shell was reused for the Harmony and Tranquility modules on the International Space Station, and supply spacecraft, such as ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicles and the commercial Cygnus, reuse Spacelab’s exterior structure. Europe’s Columbus laboratory on the Station evolved from Spacelab.”

Merbold went on to serve as the ESA’s Payload Specialist on STS-42, the International Microgravity Laboratory mission (IML-1) on the space shuttle, in January 1992. Serving as a member of that mission’s payload crew, he was in charge of the 55 different scientific experiments involved in the IML-1 mission.

He would later be selected to travel to the Russian space station MIR as part of the ESA’s Euromir 94 mission, which lasted from October 3 through November 4, 1994. Just as he was the first European astronaut to participate in a space shuttle flight, Merbold became the first ESA member to fly on a Russian mission, overseeing the execution of 28 European-developed experiments as part of a 32-day mission.