Template:Infobox spaceflight STS-39 was the twelfth mission of the Space Shuttle Discovery. The primary purpose of the mission was to conduct a variety of payload experiments for the Department of Defense.


Position Astronaut
Commander Michael L. Coats
Third spaceflight
Pilot L. Blaine Hammond, Jr.
First spaceflight
Mission Specialist 1 Gregory J. Harbaugh
First spaceflight
Mission Specialist 2 Donald R. McMonagle
First spaceflight
Mission Specialist 3 Guion S. Bluford, Jr.
Third spaceflight
Mission Specialist 4 Charles L. Veach
First spaceflight
Mission Specialist 5 Richard J. Hieb
First spaceflight

Crew seating arrangementsEdit

Seat[1] Launch Landing STS-121 seating assignments
Seats 1–4 are on the Flight Deck. Seats 5–7 are on the Middeck.
S1 Coats Coats
S2 Hammond Hammond
S3 Harbaugh Bluford
S4 McMonagle McMonagle
S5 Bluford Harbaugh
S6 Veach Veach
S7 Hieb Hieb

Mission highlightsEdit

Launch was originally scheduled for 9 March, but during processing work at Pad A, significant cracks were found on all four lug hinges on the two external tank umbilical door drive mechanisms. NASA managers opted to roll back the vehicle to the VAB on 7 March, and then to OPF for repair. The faulty hinges were replaced with units taken from orbiter Columbia, and reinforced. Discovery was returned to the pad on 1 April, and the launch was rescheduled for 23 April. The mission was again postponed when, during prelaunch external tank loading, a transducer on high-pressure oxidizer turbopump for main engine number three showed readings out of specification. The transducer and its cable harness were replaced and tested. The launch was rescheduled for 28 April. Actual launch occurred at 28 April 1991, 7:33:14 am EDT. Launch weight: 112,207 kilograms (Template:Convert/round lb).

STS-39 was a dedicated Department of Defense mission. Unclassified payload included Air Force Program-675 (AFP675); Infrared Background Signature Survey (IBSS) with Critical Ionization Velocity (CIV), Chemical Release Observation (CRO) and Shuttle Pallet Satellite-II (SPAS-II) experiments; and Space Test Payload-1 (STP-1). Classified payload consisted of Multi-Purpose Release Canister (MPEC). Also on board was Radiation Monitoring Equipment III (RME III) and Cloud Logic to Optimize Use of Defense Systems-1A (CLOUDS-1A).

STS-39 was the first unclassified Department of Defense (DoD)-dedicated Space Shuttle mission. There had previously been seven Shuttle missions dedicated to the DoD, but those were considered classified and information about the operation or success of the payloads or experiments was not released. For STS-39, only the payload in the Multi-Purpose Experiment Canister (MPEC) was listed as classified. (Bluford reportedly launched the classified payload by himself while, according to another member of the crew, "the rest of us pretended not to notice."[2])


STS-39 observing Aurora australis.


Critical Ionization Velocity experiment



The crew was divided into two teams for around-the-clock operations. Among other activities, the crew made observations of the atmosphere and gas releases, Discovery’s orbital environment, and firings of the orbiter's engines, in wavelengths ranging from infrared to far ultraviolet. As part of the sophisticated experiments, five spacecraft or satellites were deployed from the payload bay, and one was retrieved later during the mission.

Carried in the orbiter's cargo bay were: Air Force Program-675 (AFP-675); Infrared Background Signature Survey (IBSS); Space Test Program-01 (STP-01); and the MPEC. Inside the crew cabin were the Cloud Logic to Optimize the Use of Defense Systems-1A (CLOUDS 1A) experiment and the Radiation Monitoring Equipment-III (RME-III).

The Remote Manipulator System arm in the payload bay was used to deploy the Shuttle Pallet Satellite-II (SPAS-II), on which the IBSS was mounted. Among other observations, the SPAS-II/IBSS watched Discovery as it performed some orbital maneuvers including the "Malarkey Milkshake.".[3] The deployment of IBSS was delayed a day, until Flight Day Four, to give priority to the completion of the CIRRIS (Cryogenic Infrared Radiance Instrumentation for Shuttle) experiment which was depleting its liquid helium coolant supply faster than expected while making observations of auroral and airglow emissions.

As usual, crew members faced some unexpected challenges during the mission. After working only about four hours, two tape recorders could not be reactivated. The tape recorders were designed to record observations made by three instruments on AFP-675. In a complicated two-hour bypass repair operation, the astronauts had to route wires and attach a splice wire to a Ku-band antenna system so the data could be sent directly to a ground station.

The high orbital inclination of the mission, 57 degrees with respect to the equator, allowed the crew to fly over most of Earth's large land masses and observe and record environmental resources and problem areas.

STS-39 landed on 6 May 1991, 2:55:35 pm EDT, at Runway 15, Kennedy Space Center, FL. Landing was diverted there because of unacceptably high winds at the planned landing site, Edwards. Landing weight: 95,940 kilograms (Template:Convert/round lb). Rollout distance: 9,235 ft, rollout time: 56 s.

See alsoEdit


  1. "STS-39". Spacefacts. Retrieved 26 February 2014. 
  2. Template:Cite news
  3. The "Malarkey Milkshake" was an orbital maneuver wherein Discovery rotated out-of-plane, fired one OMS engine to move to a different orbital track, rapidly turned around 180° using RCS thrusters and returned to its original orbital track. This rapid sequence of maneuvers was named after the leader of the JSC guidance team which developed it (see Press Kit p. 26).

External linksEdit

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