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STS-33 Tail.jpg
Discovery in orbit; in-flight photography on this Department of Defense support mission is limited
Mission typeSatellite deployment
COSPAR ID1989-090A
SATCAT no.20329
Mission duration5 days, 6 minutes, 46 seconds
Distance travelled3,400,000 kilometres (2,100,000 mi)
Orbits completed79
Spacecraft properties
SpacecraftSpace Shuttle Discovery
Payload mass21,000 kilograms (46,000 lb)
Crew size5
Start of mission
Launch date23 November 1989, 00:23:30 (1989-11-23UTC00:23:30Z) UTC
Launch siteKennedy LC-39B
End of mission
Landing date28 November 1989, 00:30:16 (1989-11-28UTC00:30:17Z) UTC
Landing siteEdwards Runway 4
Orbital parameters
Reference systemGeocentric
RegimeLow Earth
Perigee altitude519 kilometres (322 mi)
Apogee altitude519 kilometres (322 mi)
Inclination28.45 degrees
Period88.7 min
Sts-33-patch.png STS-33 crew.jpg
Back row, L-R: Carter and Blaha. Front row, L-R: Thornton, Gregory, Musgrave.
← STS-34
STS-32 →

STS-33R was a NASA Space Shuttle mission, during which Space Shuttle Discovery deployed a payload for the United States Department of Defense (DoD). It was the 32nd shuttle mission overall, the ninth flight of Discovery, the fifth shuttle mission in support of the DoD and the last Shuttle launch of the 1980s. Due to the nature of the mission, specific details remain classified. Discovery lifted off from Pad B, Launch Complex 39 at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida, on 22 November 1989 at 7:23 pm EST; it landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on 28 November.

The mission was officially designated STS-33R as the original STS-33 designator belonged to the ill-fated Challenger STS-51L, the 25th Space Shuttle mission. Official documentation for that mission contained the designator STS-33 throughout. The 'R' stood for 'Recycled'. As STS-51L was designated STS-33, future flights with the STS-26 through STS-33 designators would require the 'R' in their documentation to avoid conflicts in tracking data from one mission to another.


Position Astronaut
Commander Frederick D. Gregory
Second spaceflight
Pilot John E. Blaha
Second spaceflight
Mission Specialist 1 Manley L. Carter Jr.
Only spaceflight
Mission Specialist 2 F. Story Musgrave
Third spaceflight
Mission Specialist 3 Kathryn C. Thornton
First spaceflight

Crew seating arrangements[edit]

Seat[1] Launch Landing STS-121 seating assignments.png
Seats 1–4 are on the Flight Deck. Seats 5–7 are on the Middeck.
S1 Gregory Gregory
S2 Blaha Blaha
S3 Carter Thornton
S4 Musgrave Musgrave
S5 Thornton Carter

Mission background[edit]

Launch of STS-33
The shuttle's wing and Earth's horizon
STS-33 Robbins Medallion

STS-33 was the original designation for the mission that became STS-51-L, the disastrous final flight of Space Shuttle Challenger. After Challenger's destruction, NASA recycled the mission numbering system back to STS-26, which was the 26th shuttle mission and the first to fly after the disaster.

S. David Griggs, a veteran of STS 51-D, was to have been the pilot of this mission. He was killed in the crash of a vintage World War II aircraft in June 1989 while training to serve as pilot on STS-33, and is commemorated on the mission insignia with a single gold star on the blue field.[2] He was replaced by John Blaha. Sonny Carter, a Mission Specialist on this flight, was killed in a commercial plane crash on 5 April 1991[3] while training to fly on STS-42.

Mission summary[edit]

STS-33R was originally scheduled to launch on 20 November, but was delayed because of problems with the integrated electronics assemblies which controlled the ignition and separation of the shuttle's solid rocket boosters. STS-33R was the third night launch of the Space Shuttle program, and the first since shuttle flights resumed in 1988 following the Challenger disaster of 1986.

During the mission, Discovery deployed a single satellite, USA-48 (NSSDC ID 1989-090B). Experts believe that this was a secret Magnum ELINT (ELectronic INTtelligence) satellite headed for geosynchronous orbit, similar to that launched by STS-51-C in 1985, making this mission essentially a duplicate of that earlier mission.[4] According to Jim Slade of ABC News, USA-48 was intended to eavesdrop on military and diplomatic communications from the Soviet Union, China, and other communist states. The satellite deployed by STS-33R was a replacement for the one launched by STS-51-C, which was running out of the maneuvering fuel required for keeping its station over the Indian Ocean.[5] However, astronaut Gary Payton stated in 2009 that STS-51-C's payload is "still up there, and still operating."[4]

Aviation Week claimed that during STS-33R, the shuttle initially entered a 204 kilometres (127 mi) x 519 kilometres (322 mi) orbit at an inclination of 28.45 degrees to the equator. It then executed three Orbital Manoeuvering System (OMS) burns, the last on its fourth orbit. The first burn was to circularize the orbit at 519 kilometres (322 mi).

The satellite was deployed on the 7th orbit, and ignited its Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) booster at the ascending node of the 8th orbit, successfully placing it in a geosynchronous transfer orbit. This was the 8th IUS launched aboard the shuttle, and the seventh successfully deployed.

STS-33R suffered a cabin leak in the Waste Collection System.[6]

STS-33R was observed by the 1.6m telescope of the US Air Force Maui Optical Station (AMOS) during five passes over Hawaii. Spectrographic and infrared images of the shuttle obtained with the Enhanced Longwave Spectral Imager (ELSI) were aimed at studying the interactions between gases released by the shuttle's primary reaction control system and residual atmospheric oxygen and nitrogen species in orbit.[7][8]

The landing was initially scheduled for 26 November, but was postponed for a day because of strong winds at the landing site. Discovery landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on 27 November 1989 at 7:30 pm EST, after a mission duration of 5 days and 6 minutes.

See also[edit]


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

  1. ^ "STS-33". Spacefacts. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  2. ^ [1] Archived 23 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Carter". Archived from the original on 22 July 2010. Retrieved 12 August 2010.
  4. ^ a b Cassutt, Michael (August 2009). "Secret Space Shuttles". Air & Space. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
  5. ^ Slade, Jim (22 November 1989). "ABC News Coverage of the STS-33 Launch". ABC News.
  6. ^ "Space Shuttle Missions Summary" (PDF). National Aeronautics and Space Administration. September 2011. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 July 2019.
  7. ^ Knecht, David J. (19 April 1990). "Recovery of Images from the AMOS ELSI Data for STS-33" (PDF). Geophysics Laboratory (PHK), Hanscom AFB.
  8. ^ I.L. Kofsky; D.L.A. Rall; R.B. Sluder (28 June 1991). "Measurements and Interpretation of Contaminant Radiations in the Spacecraft Environment". Phillips Laboratory, Hanscom AFB.

External links[edit]