Thirty years ago, an unusual conversation was had between a grocery store shopper and one of his friends. The pair were using amateur radio to discuss the progress of the second German Spacelab mission, underway at that very moment aboard shuttle Columbia. Nothing unusual about that, one might think, except that the shopper’s “friend” happened to be NASA astronaut Steve Nagel, the shuttle commander, who had arranged the call via a colleague in Mission Control before Columbia’s 26 April 1993 launch.
The two friends spoke for four or five minutes, their words crackling between low-Earth orbit and the grocery store’s parking lot. Bemused shoppers paused to listen. When the call ended, one of them approached Nagel’s friend.
“Who were you talking to?”
“If I told you,” the friend grinned, “you wouldn’t believe me!”
Launched three decades ago today, STS-55 was a half-billion-dollar scientific venture between the United States and the newly unified Federal Republic of Germany, utilizing Europe’s expansive Spacelab pressurized module in the shuttle’s payload bay. Designated “Spacelab-D2” (for “Deutschland”), the mission featured 88 experiments spanning life sciences, radiation physics, materials science and technology.
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