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In its first five years, the earliest space-shuttle missions made significant contributions, beginning with the first orbital flight tests of the Columbia orbiter in April 1981; the first launch of the second orbiter (Challenger) in April 1983; the first flight of Spacelab, with 71 scientific experiments from the United States and European countries, in November 1983; the first repair of a satellite in orbit (the Solar Maximum Satellite) in April 1984; the first retrieval of satellites from orbit (Palapa and Westar) and their return to the Earth in November 1984; and the first manually assisted launch of a satellite (Syncon IV-3) from space, after retrieval and repair in orbit of the satellite Leasat in August 1985. The shuttle program was suspended for nearly three years for evaluation and modification following the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in January 1986.

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