Spacelab Module LM2 in Columbia's payload bay, serving as the Life and Microgravity Spacelab
Mission typeBioscience research
Microgravity research
COSPAR ID1996-036A Edit this at Wikidata
SATCAT no.23931
Mission duration16 days, 21 hours, 48 minutes, 30 seconds
Distance travelled11,000,000 kilometres (6,800,000 mi)
Orbits completed271
Spacecraft properties
SpacecraftSpace Shuttle Columbia
Payload mass9,649 kilograms (21,272 lb)
Crew size7
Start of mission
Launch dateJune 20, 1996, 14:49:00.0075 (1996-06-20UTC14:49Z) UTC
Launch siteKennedy LC-39B
End of mission
Landing dateJuly 7, 1996, 12:37:30 (1996-07-07UTC12:37:31Z) UTC
Landing siteKennedy SLF Runway 33
Orbital parameters
Reference systemGeocentric
RegimeLow Earth
Perigee altitude246 kilometres (153 mi)
Apogee altitude261 kilometres (162 mi)
Inclination39.0 degrees
Period89.6 minutes

Left to right – Seated: Henricks, Kregel; Standing: Favier, Linnehan, Helms, Brady, Thirsk
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STS-79 →

STS-78 was the fifth dedicated Life and Microgravity Spacelab mission for the Space Shuttle program, flown partly in preparation for the International Space Station project. The mission used the Space Shuttle Columbia, which lifted off successfully from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39B on June 20, 1996. This marked the 78th flight of the Space Shuttle and 20th mission for Columbia.


Position Astronaut
Commander United States Terence T. Henricks
Fourth and last spaceflight
Pilot United States Kevin R. Kregel
Second spaceflight
Mission Specialist 1 United States Richard M. Linnehan
First spaceflight
Mission Specialist 2 United States Susan Helms
Third spaceflight
Mission Specialist 3 United States Charles E. Brady, Jr.
Only spaceflight
Payload Specialist 1 France Jean-Jacques Favier, CNES
Only spaceflight
Payload Specialist 2 Canada Robert Thirsk, CSA
First spaceflight

Backup crew

Position Astronaut
Payload Specialist 1 Spain Pedro Duque, ESA
First spaceflight
Payload Specialist 2 Italy Luca Urbani, ASI
First spaceflight

Mission objectives

Mission highlights

Launch of STS-78

During the 16-day, 21-hour mission, the crew of Columbia assisted in the preparations for the International Space Station by studying the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body in readiness for ISS Expeditions, and also carried out experiments similar to those now being carried out on the orbital station.

Following launch, Columbia climbed to an altitude of 278 kilometers (173 mi) with an orbital inclination of 39° to the Earth's equator to allow the seven-member flight crew to maintain the same sleep rhythms they were accustomed to on Earth and to reduce vibrations and directional forces that could have affected on-board microgravity experiments.

Once in orbit, the crew entered the 40 feet (12 m) long pressurized Spacelab module to commence over 40 science experiments to take place during the mission. Not only did these experiments make use of the module's laboratory, but also employed lockers in the middeck section of the orbiter. Thirteen of the experiments were dedicated to studying the effects of microgravity on the human body, whilst another six studied the behaviour of fluids and metals in the almost weightless environment and the production of metallic alloys and protein crystals. The crew also carried out the first ever comprehensive study of sleep patterns in microgravity, research into bone and muscle loss in space, and in-flight fixes to problem hardware on the Bubble, Drop and Particle Unit (BDPU), designed to study fluid physics.

The mission also featured a test of a procedure that was later used during the second Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission to raise the telescope's altitude without damaging the satellite's solar arrays. During the test, Columbia's vernier Reaction Control System jets were gently pulsed to boost the Shuttle's altitude without jarring any of the mission payloads. The test was successful, and was later employed by Discovery during STS-82, and was used multiple times to boost the orbit of the ISS when docked with an orbiter.

Mission anomaly

Although the launch went without any issue, an issue was discovered with the SRB's following recovery. Analysis showed worrying damage to the field joints which was likely caused by hot gases. This similar damage is what caused booster seals aboard Space Shuttle Challenger to break resulting in a break-up mid-flight. The issue did not compromise astronaut safety because there was a hot gas path through the motors field joint but not the capture joint. Despite there being no issue with safety, it did raise questions of a new EPA required cleaning fluid.[1]

Due to the issue, STS-79 which was meant to dock with the Space Station Mir and return astronaut Shannon Lucid, was delayed. Options of returning Shannon on a Soyuz were considered, but never followed through as the Shuttle was considered safe and able to return Shannon.

See also


  1. ^ "'Man, I'm Here': 20 Years Since the Record-Setting Mission of STS-78 (Part 1)". AmericaSpace. June 18, 2016.

Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.