Launched 20 years ago this week, STS-46 was a NASA Space Shuttle mission of the orbiter Atlantis that marked a number of European firsts.
Launched on 31 July 1992, the crew of seven included ESA's Claude Nicollier and Franco Malerba of the Italian space agency ASI. Together with NASA astronauts Loren Shriver, Andrew Allen, Jeff Hoffman, Franklin Chang-Diaz and Marsha Ivins, they would spend nearly eight days in space.
Claude Nicollier became the third ESA astronaut and first Swiss national in space, and Franco Malerba became the first Italian national in space. Also, the STS-46 mission itself marked the 150th human spaceflight to reach orbit.
The flight's main objectives were the first deployment of the European Retrievable Carrier (EURECA), an ESA-sponsored free-flying science platform, and the first demonstration of the Tethered Satellite System (TSS), a joint project between NASA and ASI.
EURECA was delivered to its operational orbit on the mission's sixth day. On TSS, after problems were encountered with its tether line, operations were curtailed and the satellite was returned to Earth. The TSS would fly again on STS-75 in 1996.
After orbiting at an altitude of 508 km for nearly a year, EURECA was retrieved in July 1993 by STS-57 and returned to Earth. EURECA has been on display at the Swiss Transport Museum in Lucerne since 2000.