STS-51L RECOVERY SHIPS - THE CHALLENGER DISASTER

STS-51L Recovery Force

After the Challenger (STS-51L) exploded 73 seconds after liftoff a massive rescue and recovery effort was started involving a flotilla of 28 US Navy, US Coast Guard and civilian vessels. While there were no survivors, a significant amount of debris was found including what was left of the vital Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB). This recovery effort eventually led to the discovery of the problem with the SRBs and to a major redesign. This page lists the 28 ships that were involved in the recovery effort with brief information on each ship. Covers are known from all 28 ships. The next page contains two tables. The first lists covers that document the major events that occurred during the recovery, while the second lists all known covers. However, it should be noted, that in some cases, covers are known with a number of different dates and sometimes different postmark places.

Update (10 December 2011)
Further research has identified extra ships that were involved in the recovery effort. Ships can be broadly listed as being involved in the deep water salvage operations, the surface and shallow water salvage effort and auxillary vessels. The Rogers' Commission Report Volume III, Appendix O lists the ships officially involved in the deep water salvage operations (see separate table for a summary of these ships). The Eliminator and Pelican Princess were auxillary vessels while most of the rest were involved in the surface and shallow water salvage effort (this includes the US Coast Guard Cutters).

Summary of Recovery Force Ships

 

Ship Type Designation Comments

USS Aubrey Fitch

Guided Missile Frigate

FFG-34

None

USCGC Bear

USCG Medium Endurance Cutter

WMEC-901

None

USCGC Cherokee

USCG Auxiliary Tug

WMEC-165

None

USCGC Dallas

USCG High Endurance Cutter

WHEC-716

None

USCGC Dauntless

USCG Medium Endurance Cutter

WMEC-624

None

USS Guam

US Navy Amphibious Assault Ship

LPH-9

None

USCGC Harriet Lane

USCG Medium Endurance Cutter

WMEC-903

None

Johnson Sea-Link 1

Civilian Submersible - Mother ship was the Edwin Link

N/A

Extremely Rare

Johnson Sea-Link 2

Civilian Submersible - Mother ship was the Seward Johnson

N/A

A number of different dates and dive numbers are known - Rare cover

USS Kittiwake

US Navy Submarine Rescue Ship

ASR-13

Unusual Cover - Very hard to find

USS Koelsch

US Navy Destroyer Escort

FF-1049

Several Dates are known

NR-1

US Navy Ocean Engineering and Research Submarine

NR-1

Several dates are known - Very Rare Cover

R/V Paul Langevin III

Civilian Ocean Research Vessel

N/A

None

USS Opportune

US Navy Rescue & Salvage Ship

ARS-41

None

R/V G.W. Pierce

Civilian Ocean Research Vessel

N/A

None

USCGC Point Roberts

USCG Patrol Boat

WPR-82332

None

USS Preserver

US Navy Rescue & Salvage Ship

ARS-8

None

Range Salvage Boat

USAF LCU

U/K

None

USNS Range Sentinel

US Navy Missile Range Instrumentation Ship

T-AGM-22

Several different postmarks are known

USNS Redstone

US Navy Missile Range Instrumentation Ship

T-AGM-20

Several different postmarks are known

USS Sampson

US Navy Guided Missile Destroyer

DDG-10

None

USS Semmes

US Navy Guided Missile Destroyer

DDG-18

None

USS Simpson

US Navy Guided Missile Frigate

FFG-56

None

USS W. S. Sims4

US Navy Frigate (originally Escort Destroyer DE)

FF-1059

No covers are known

MSV Stena Workhorse

Civilian Salvage Vessel

N/A

None

USS Sunbird

US Navy Submarine Rescue Ship

ASR-15

With USN SR-1 Aboard

USCGC Sweetgum

USCG Seagoing Buoy Tender

WLB-309

Several different dates are known

USCGC Tampa

USCG Medium Endurance Cutter

WMEC-902

None

USS Underwood

US Navy Guided Missile Frigate

FFG-36

None

UTC Freedom Star

NASA SRB Recovery Ship

N/A

May be Commemorative Only

UTC Liberty Star

NASA SRB Recovery Ship

N/A

May be Commemorative Only

UTC Independence

NASA SRB Recovery Ship

N/A

May be Commemorative Only

Eliminator

Civilian Support Craft

N/A

Support Craft for Personnel and Cargo X-fer

Pelican Princess

Civilian Support Craft

N/A

Support Craft for Personnel and Cargo X-fer

Possible Involvement

USCGC Point Charles

USCG Patrol Boat

WPR-82361

Not mentioned in any report. Covers reported but not seen.


Link to Detailed Tables
Rogers' Commission Report Table

Notes:
1) Covers from the NR-1 and Johnson Sea-Link 2 are rare and quite valuable.
2) The USS Kittwake cover is unusual and rarely mentioned. It's rarity is unknown.
3) Most covers from this mission are rarer than for the Gemini & Apollo missions are generally bring high values.
4) Correspondence from former crew member Radioman Senior Chief Petty Officer Bob Watts, now retired, plus USS W. S. Sims history webpages. One cover has now been found.

References:
Private Collection of Dr Ross J Smith
Rogers' Commission Report Volume III, Appendix O
Astrophile Nov 86 by Robert Marinaro
Private Correspondence with Sam Stein
Private Correspondence with Jack Treutle
Private Correspondence with Tom Steiner

This page © Dr Ross J Smith
This page is maintained by the
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Last modified on 30 March 2017

 
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