Columbia launched from Kennedy Space Center on January 9, 1990 at 1:35 AM EST and landed at Edwards Air Force Base on January 20 at 1:35 AM PST. The shuttle orbited 172 times at an altitude of 178 nautical miles at an inclination of 28.5 degrees and travelled 4.5 million miles. The mission lasted 10 days, 21 hours, 0 minutes, and 36 seconds.

At nearly eleven days this was by far the longest shuttle mission to date.

The launch scheduled for December 18, 1989 was postponed to complete and verify modifications to Pad A, being used for first time since January 1986. The launch scheduled for January 8, 1990 scrubbed due to weather conditions.

Objectives were deployment of SYNCOM IV-F5 defense communications satellite and retrieval of NASA’s Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF). SYNCOM IV-F5 (also known as LEASAT 5) deployed first, and third stage Minuteman solid perigee kick motor propelled the satellite to geosynchronous orbit. LDEF was retrieved on flight day four using the remote manipulator system. Middeck payloads: Characterization of Neurospora Circadian Rhythms (CNCR); Protein Crystal Growth (PCG); Fluid Experiment Apparatus (FEA); American Flight Echocardiograph (AFE); Latitude /Longitude Locator (L3); Mesoscale Lightning Experiment (MLE); IMAX camera; and Air Force Maui Optical Site (AMOS) experiment.

Columbia was crewed by Commander Daniel C. Brandenstein, Pilot James D. Wetherbee, and Mission Specialists Bonnie J. Dunbar, G. David Low, and Marsha S. Ivins.