Mission Insignia
Mission statistics
Mission nameSTS-2
Space shuttleColumbia
Launch pad39-A
Launch dateNovember 12, 1981, 15:09:59 UTC
LandingNovember 14, 1981, 21:23:11 UTC
Mission duration2d/06:13:12
Number of orbits37
Orbital altitude291 km
Orbital inclination 38.03°
Distance traveled 1,729,654 km
Crew photo
STS-2 Crew
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STS-2 was a space shuttle mission by NASA using the Space Shuttle Columbia, that launched on November 12, 1981. This was the second space shuttle mission, and was also the second mission for Columbia. It was thus the first time ever that a manned reusable spacecraft left the earth for its second mission and returned to space.

In the early planning stages of the Shuttle Program, STS-2 was the designated Skylab reboost mission. However, delays with the development and the deteriorating orbit of Skylab made the mission impossible. By the time STS-2 was launched, Skylab had long since de-orbited.


  • Commander: Joe Engle (First spaceflight)
  • Pilot: Richard Truly (First spaceflight)

Engle had been the original selection as Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 17, but was bumped in favour of "Jack" Schmitt when it became clear that it would be the last lunar landing. As a consequence, both Engle and Truly were rookies during this mission (Engle had flown the X-15 above 80 km and so had earned USAF astronaut wings, but was still considered a NASA rookie), the first all rookie crew since Skylab 4. Following STS-2, NASA policy held that the commander had to be an astronaut who had already flown in space, making this the last all rookie crew of a NASA mission.

Backup crew

  • Commander: Thomas K. Mattingly
  • Pilot: Henry W. Hartsfield

Mission parameters

  • Mass:
    • Orbiter Liftoff: 230,707 lb (104,647 kg)
    • Orbiter Landing: 204,258 lb (92,650 kg)
    • DFI Payload: 18,777 lb (8,517 kg)
  • Perigee: 138 mi (222 km)
  • Apogee: 144 mi (231 km)
  • Inclination: 38.0
  • Period: 89.0 min

Mission highlights

Launch of the second Space Shuttle flight took place on 12 November 1981, with liftoff at 10:10 a.m. EST, 7 months after STS-1. The planned launch time of 7:30 a.m. was delayed while a faulty data transmitting unit on Columbia was replaced. Originally the launch had been set for 9 October, but it was delayed by a nitrogen tetroxide spill during loading of the forward Reaction Control System tanks. It was next scheduled for 4 November, but was again scrubbed when high oil pressures were discovered in two of the three Auxiliary Power Units that control the orbiter's hydraulic system.

The flight marked the first time a manned space vehicle had been reflown with a second crew. Prior to launch Columbia spent 103 days in the Orbiter Processing Facility. It again carried the DFI package, as well as the OSTA-l payload named for the NASA Office of Space and Terrestrial Applications which consisted of a number of remote sensing instruments mounted on a Spacelab pallet in the payload bay. These instruments, including the Shuttle Imaging Radar-A, successfully carried out remote sensing of Earth resources, environmental quality, ocean and weather conditions. In addition, the Canadian-built Remote Manipulator System arm was successfully operated in all its various operating modes for the first time.

View of the RMS during STS-2

During the mission, the Mission Control Center was visited by President Ronald Reagan. He was supposed to visit during STS-1, but that was cancelled due to the attempt on his life two weeks prior.

Although the STS-2 mission had been planned for five days, with a few hours a day over the five-day mission testing the Canadarm, the flight was cut short when one of the three fuel cells that produce electricity and drinking water failed. The mission was shortened to two days, and the Canadarm tests were canceled. The crew stayed awake during a scheduled sleep period and tested the arm anyway.

Aerial view of the STS-2 Columbia launch from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Landing took place on Runway 23, at Edwards AFB, at 1:23 p.m. PST, 14 November, after a 36 orbit, 933,757 mile (1,502,736 km) flight that lasted 2 days, 6 hours, 13 minutes, 13 seconds. Engle manually flew the re-entry from Mach 24 throughout the entire approach and landing the only shuttle pilot to have done so to test the limits of the shuttle's stability and controls.

Despite the truncated flight, more than 90 percent of the mission's objectives were achieved. Moreover, modifications of the water sound suppression system at the pad to absorb the solid rocket booster overpressure wave during launch were effective; no tiles were lost and only 12 were damaged. Columbia was flown back to the Kennedy Space Center on 25 November 1981.

This was also the first flight where O-ring blowby was observed. After the damage was discovered, another O-ring was intentionally damaged to a further degree. It was then put through a flight simulation at three times the flight pressure. It survived the test, and was endorsed as flight worthy. This same problem would occur on fourteen more shuttle flights before it destroyed the Challenger in 1986.

STS-2 was the last shuttle flight to have its External Tank painted white. In an effort to reduce the Shuttle's overall weight STS-3 and all subsequent missions used an unpainted tank, saving approximately 272 kg / 600 pounds. This lack of paint gives the ET its distinctive orange color now synonymous with the Space Shuttle.

Mission insignia

The two stars in the black field of the mission patch tell the flight's numerical designation in the Space Transportation System's mission sequence.

Wake-up calls

A tradition for NASA human spaceflights since the days of Gemini, mission crews are played a special musical track at the start of each day in space.

Flight DaySongArtist/Composer
Day 2Pigs In SpaceThe Muppets
Day 3Columbia, Gem of the OceanFlight Operations Directorate groupContraband