Challenger… simply the word evokes memories of one of the worst disasters of the NASA space program. While we will always remember that final mission, Challenger’s legacy is so much bigger.
In the late 70′s Challenger, then known as STA-099, was constructed as a testbed vehicle to test NASA’s new lighter airframe. STA-099 was subjected to over a year of intense vibration and thermal testing before it was approved for space flight conversion. In 1979, shuttle orbiter manufacturer Rockwell started work to convert STA-099 into a space-rated orbiter, now known as OV-099. This was Rockwell’s second orbiter — the first was Enterprise — and its first that was space-rated.
The second orbiter in NASA’s space shuttle fleet, OV-099 arrived at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida in July 1982. The Challenger space orbiter was named after a British naval research vessel HMS Challenger that sailed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans during the 1870s.
Challenger’s maiden voyage to space was April 6, 1983, on STS-6. STS-6 is most well known for the first spacewalk of the shuttle program and the deployment of the first satellite of the Tracking and Data Relay System (TDRS) constellation.
[Helene McLaughlin’s tribute to the Challenger space orbiter, part of a 10-day countdown to the final launch of NASA’s shuttle program, continues on GeekMom.]