As I studied this topic, I realized that there is a vast amount of information available.
I am currently reading Diane Vaughan’s book “Challenger Launch Decision” and it has given me a different perspective.
Space Shuttle Timeline
In order to understand things better I have produced a timeline covering the Space Shuttle history.
By necessity it is brief and only covers the major milestones.
The program started in the late 60’s with high expectations and ended over 40 years later when the Atlantis landed after the final flight in 2011.
One obvious anomaly is the mission numbering system. The Tragic Challenger Mission was STS-51L, which was followed by STS-26.
What was that about?
When Columbia launched in April 1981 it was designated STS-1.
This designation system was retained for the next eight missions, through STS-9.
Allegedly James Beggs the NASA Administrator had a fear of the number 13 and after the Apollo 13 mission did not want an STS-13, so the system was changed.
Or, it may have been the need for a more descriptive designator as the shuttle flights “ramped-up to the projected fifty a year.
Whatever the reason the system changed and is illustrated below for STS-41C. (Which incidentally was originally designated STS-13 and landed on Friday the 13th of April 1984)
Following the Challenger disaster mission designations returned to the original method, with the “Return to Flight” mission designated STS-26, continuing through to the final mission STS-135.
NASA would never realize their fifty missions a year and the alternative launch site at Vandenberg AFB was never utilized
It should be noted that under both systems the number was designated at conception and was retained for the duration of the mission.
This lead to the actual launch sequence not matching the designation number, as missions were delayed or rescheduled.
See Robert B. Collom article for further details1
The plan is to bring everything together in the next and final post.
- Behind the Space Shuttle Mission Numbering System – Robert B. Collom (NASA History Division Intern)