30 March 1982, 16:04:46 UTC, T plus 192:04:46

Space Shuttle Columbia (OV-102) escorted by two NASA Northrop T-38 Talon chase planes, just prior to touch down at White Sands, New Mexico, 30 March 1982. (NASA)

30 March 1982: At 9:04:46 a.m. Mountain Standard Time (16:04:46 UTC), Space Shuttle Columbia (OV-102) completed its third space flight (STS-3) by landing at White Sands Space Harbor, the auxiliary space shuttle landing area at the White Sands Test Facility, west of Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Columbia rolled out 13,732 feet (4,185.5 meters), coming to a complete stop after 83 seconds. The duration of the flight was 192 hours, 4 minutes, 46 seconds.

Space Shuttle Columbia touches down at White Sands Space Harbor at the end of Mission STS-3, 30 March 19782. (NASA)

This was the only time that a space shuttle landed at White Sands.

During STS-116 (9–22 December 2006) WSSH was activated due to adverse weather conditions at both Kennedy and Edwards. However, Discovery (OV-103) was able to land at the Kennedy SLF.

WSSH was also used as a training facility for shuttle pilots to practice approaches while flying NASA’s Grumman C-11A Shuttle Training Aircraft (a modified Gulfstream II). One of these STAs, NASA 946 (N946NA), is in the collection of the Texas Air & Space Museum, Amarillo, Texas.

Runway 23, looking southwest toward the San Andres Mountain Range. (NASA)
White Sands Space Harbor Tower (NASA)

Located at an elevation of 3,913 feet (1,193 meters) above Sea Level near the northwest edge of a very large dry lakebed of gypsum sand, WSSH has two 15,000 foot (4,572 meters) runways, Runway 23/05 and Runway 17/35, each with 10,000 foot (3,048 meters) overuns at either end. A third runway, Runway 2/20, has  a length of 19,800 feet (6,035 meters), with no overruns.

Runway 17/35 replicates the runway at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida, and 23/05 matches the dry lake runway at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The runways are constructed of compacted natural gypsum with markings of asphalt. Lighting for night operations is provided by portable xenon light trailers positioned 1,000 feet (305 meters) into the overruns. Pads for eight helicopters are located close to the runway intersection. There is a control tower and modern visual and electronic landing aids.

Crash/Rescue personnel and equipment was provided by Hollomon Air Force Base.

Satellite image of the 275-square-mile White Sands National Monument located in New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin. WSSH is visible at the upper left corner. At the upper right are the famous gypsum sand dunes for which White Sands is named. (NASA)

Columbia was returned to Cape Canaveral 6 April 1982 aboard NASA 905, one of two Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.

NASA 905, a Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, departs White Sands Space Harbor with Columbia (OV-102), 2 April 1982. (NASA DFRC)

© 2019 Bryan R. Swopes

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