Astronauts celebrate 25th anniversary of historic launch

Six American and German astronauts from the 1985 West Germany controlled STS-61-A Deutschland 1 Spacelab mission met with service members and their families at the Patch Barracks Community Club Oct 29.

The astronauts, invited on behalf of U.S. Europe Command, shared their multinational experience in honor of the 25th anniversary of the mission.

The 1985 mission, the last successful flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger, carried the NASA and European Space Agency Spacelab into orbit, along with eight astronauts from the U.S., West Germany and Holland.

Air Force Col. Hank Hartsfield, the mission commander and retired NASA astronaut, offered EUCOM’s commanders a few tips about working with international co-workers during the visit.

“The biggest part of it is trust and showing a good personality,” he said. “While conducting this mission with the Dutch and the Germans, we had a few rough spots, of course, but we dealt with them … . Now I can [say] those [are] some of the best friends I have.  You have to show them that you trust them — not just say it, but demonstrate it.”

Douglas Pittner, a community member, said that meeting the astronauts was a one-of-a-kind opportunity for him and his family.

“Given that fewer than 500 people have been in space, getting to meet a single astronaut is a special and unique experience,” Pittner said. “The best part was the opportunity to ask them about the experiments they performed in space and the impact those experiments had, from improving GPS systems to determining crystal structures in order to understand human bone density loss.”

Pittner also said having a multinational crew visit the base demonstrated how nations can work together to advance the human race.

 He said he would like to thank the astronauts for visiting with the children and taking time to help answer their questions about space flight.

“It was important for them to speak to us as a reminder of the great scientific advances we have been able to make through the space program and space exploration,” Pittner said.

Ulf Merbold, retired ESA astronaut — and the first German on an American shuttle — said he hopes to see more space expeditions in the future and believes space is the ideal environment for scientific advancement.

“Naturally, weightlessness is not entirely feasible on the ground, and only in space can we conduct many of these experiments,” said Merbold. “Also, being in space allows us to receive star signals we might not otherwise observe on Earth.

“International cooperation has been a scientific standard for centuries, and I believe the International Space Station is another unique example of how people can combine their potential and forces to accomplish great things,” he added.

 While in orbit, the team conducted over 76 scientific experiments in many areas including materials science, life sciences, communications, biology and navigation. This was also one of the first space missions in which payload operations were controlled from the German Space Operations Center in Oberpfaffenhofen, instead of NASA.