Airbus Defence and Space

D-1 – the first German Spacelab mission

On 30 October 1985 at 17:00:00 hours UTC, NASA’s Challenger space shuttle took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying Germany’s first Spacelab mission, known as “D-1”. At an altitude of 324 kilometers, the space laboratory circled the Earth 111 times in an orbit inclined at 57° to the equator. This German-led research mission to Spacelab – itself developed and built by Airbus Defence and Space in Bremen – performed micro-gravity research. The shuttle landed seven days later at 17:44:51 UTC on 6 November 1985 at the Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, California.

On board the shuttle was the eight-man D-1 crew – the biggest crew that would ever fly with Spacelab: Commander Henry “Hank” Warren Hartsfield and pilot Steven Ray Nagel, together with mission specialists Guion Steward Bluford Jr, James Frederick Buchli and Bonnie Jeanne Dunbar (all from the USA and NASA), Reinhard Alfred Furrer, Ernst Willie Messerschmid (both from Germany and DFVLR) and Wubbo Johannes Ockels (from the Netherlands and ESA).


The D-1 mission was the first of two Spacelab missions led by Germany. The German air and space research agency DFVLR (forerunner of the German Aerospace Centre DLR) and the then Federal Ministry of Research and Technology (BMFT) shared responsibility for the planning, preparation and execution of the mission, as well as for evaluating the scientific and technological findings.


The mission was financed by BMFT and DFVLR, with contributions from ESA and the French space agency CNES. DFVLR was project manager for D-1. The principal tasks to be carried out were:

  • Development and provision of payload elements and experiments
  • Analytical and physical integration and verification of the payload including mission software and mission-specific instruments
  • Payload operation, preparation and performance during the mission
  • Selection and training of the crew
  • Preparation, consolidation and evaluation of mission data as well as communication between ground control and flight crew
  • Coordination of services to be provided by NASA

Scientific oversight of D-1 was given to a separate project team. This team was independent of D-1 project management and organised by discipline, and it represented the scientific objectives of the D-1 research mission.


German and other European universities, research institutes and industrial companies as well as ESA and NASA developed experiments which aimed to generate new scientific and technical knowledge in various areas of zero-/micro-gravity research. Germany contributed 44 of the 76 experiments that were on board D-1. Ultimately, only three experiments ran into technical difficulties that meant they could not be carried out or were only partially successful. While several experiments beat all expectations and provided more than 100 percent of the planned test results.


During the D-1 mission, researchers grew crystals, melted metals and produced alloys, studied diffusion processes and phase transitions, grew plant seedlings, and tested behaviours processes in humans and plants under weightless conditions, free from the effects of gravity.


D-1 gave rise to numerous findings, instruments and procedures that have made their way into our everyday lives, for example in telemedicine, in the treatment of glaucoma and in new products and production processes in the field of materials science.


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