Space: Tinkering with Solar Max

Challenger's astronauts will attempt the first satellite repair

Every eleven years the sun's outer layers erupt in a blaze of turbulent magnetic storms, characterized by an increase in sunspots and fiery explosions known as solar flares. In February 1980, on the eve of one such outburst, NASA launched an instrument-packed scientific satellite called the Solar Maximum Mission. Nicknamed Solar Max, the spacecraft was to photograph and monitor the sun's activity, which even at a distance of 93 million miles can disrupt global communications and power transmissions, influence weather and endanger space voyagers.

After ten...

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