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Historical Archives of the European Union

ESA’s newly published set of digitised files on Spacelab

Newly published digitised files from the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO) shed light on the work and planning leading up to the 28 November 1983 Spacelab launch.

27 November 2023 | Research


Two months after the Spacelab programme was approved at the European Space Conference in Brussels, the Memorandum of Understanding on Spacelab between Europe and the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was signed on 24 September 1973. Ten years later, on 28 November 1983, two Europeans would contribute to its success story, marking the ESA’s entrance into human spaceflight activities.

Ulf Merbold from West Germany and Wubbo Ockels from the Netherlands were selected from 2000 applicants as Europe’s payload specialists for the Spacelab programme, in December 1977. After years of training, Merbold became the first ESA astronaut to fly in space as a crew member on the 1983 launch, while his colleague Wubbo Ockels served as the back-up European payload specialist, witnessing the launch from the Payload Operations Control Centre in Houston.

To celebrate this magnificent milestone in ESA history, the HAEU and ESA are happy to share the newly published set of digitised files on Spacelab, accessible in the HAEU database. The records shed light on various topics related to Spacelab, such as European Spacelab activities, the Spacelab team, NASA/ESRO Joint Preliminary Programme Plan for Spacelab, the Mission objectives for the first flight, the Operational phase, the Spacelab crew, the Space Shuttle concept, and meetings of the ESRO/NASA Joint Spacelab Working Group. Space enthusiasts can also read about `Selection and development of Spacelab payloads` and `Development of experiments` or consult files on the `European model for spacelab missions`.

The HAEU will continue digitisation to make ‘ESA Family’ archival material ever more accessible to the public. The inventories of the ESA fonds are available here.

Last update: 27 November 2023

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