History Highlight: High Flyers Highlight STS-72 Mission

  • Published
  • By Mark Cleary
  • 45th Space Wing Historian
The primary objectives of the STS-72 mission launched in January 1996 were to: 1) retrieve the Japanese Space Flyer (JSF) spacecraft on Flight Day 3, and 2) deploy and retrieve the Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology (OAST) Flyer on Flight Day 4 and Flight Day 6 respectively. The JSF spacecraft contained three automated laboratories, and it had been launched into orbit on March 18, 1995 on an H-II expendable launch vehicle from the Tanegashima launch site in Japan. In preparation for the JSF's retrieval,
the spacecraft was powered down and its 64-foot-wide solar array was retracted to allow grappling and placement of the payload in the Shuttle's cargo bay. The OAST Flyer was the sixth in a series of missions employing the SPARTAN carrier, and it carried four experiments together with the means to record all scientific and "housekeeping" data associated with the flyer in its free-flying mode.

Secondary objectives included operations involving the Shuttle Laser Altimeter/Get Away Special, the Shuttle Solar Backscatter Ultraviolet Instrument, and two Extravehicular Activities (EVAs) to demonstrate International Space Station ALPHA assembly techniques. There were also six in-cabin payloads: 1) the Physiological and Anatomical Rodent Experiment, 2) the Space Tissue Loss payload, 3) the Protein Crystal Growth Experiment, 4) The Commercial Protein Crystal Growth Experiment, 5) the Microgravity Plant Nutrient Experiment and 6) the Midcourse Space Experiment, which used orbiter thruster firings as a sensor calibration and evaluation target for space-based sensors on an MSX satellite (orbited before the Shuttle mission).

Air Force Colonel Brian Duffy commanded Endeavour on the mission, and Navy Lieutenant Commander Brent Jett, Jr. piloted the orbiter. The mission specialists were Dr. Leroy Chiao, Dr. Daniel T. Barry, Navy Captain Winston E. Scott, and Koichi Wakata. The lift-off from Complex 39B was scheduled for 9:18 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) on January 11, 1996. The mission was expected to last approximately nine days as Endeavour orbited Earth at an altitude of 250 nautical miles. Normal landing was scheduled for the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at the Kennedy Space Center on January 20th.

Two unplanned holds during the countdown delayed the launch somewhat on January 11th, but Endeavour lifted off at 09:41 a.m. GMT. The crew grappled the JSF spacecraft successfully on January 13th at 10:57 a.m. GMT, and they stowed it in the cargo bay less than an hour later. The OAST was deployed and retrieved successfully, and the EVAs on the 15th and 17th met most of their objectives. Following a "good burn" at 6:44 a.m. GMT on January 20th, Endeavour landed safely at the Kennedy Space Center at 7:41 a.m. on the same day. Support forces were released about 80 minutes later.