Space: Guten Tag, Houston Control!

Challenger launches an international venture

The scene could have been the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Computer control panels were labeled with such typical NASA acronyms as PAP (payload activity planner) and CIC (communication interface coordinator). On an enormous video screen, a curved line snaked across a map of the world, tracking the voyage of Flight 61-A through space. But wait a minute. Emblazoned on another screen against a black, red and gold background was a message that seemed strangely out of place: ERSTE DEUTSCHE SPACELAB MISSION. Translation: first German Spacelab mission.

The craft flying 200 miles above earth may have been the all-American orbiter Challenger,...

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