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A caller to the long-running NPR radio talk show Car Talk described a problem with their Rockwell van. While it started fine, it ran "incredibly rough" for the first two minutes.

Is it possible to identify the "van" and it's driver, the other vehicle, and the date and any other identifying features (e.g. mission number) when this call-in took place?

cued at 18:08 (alternate sources 1, 2)

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    $\begingroup$ It was a shuttle mission, not Apollo. I remember listening to Car Talk at the time, but long enough ago that details are missing. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Sep 14 at 23:01
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    $\begingroup$ He literally says he’s on Space Shuttle Atlantis and confirms he is John Grunsfeld. $\endgroup$
    – Ludo
    Sep 15 at 20:39
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Is it possible to identify the "van" and it's driver, the other vehicle, and the date and any other identifying features (e.g. mission number) when this call-in took place?

The vehicle described is the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

  • "Rockwell van" - the shuttle orbiter's prime contractor was Rockwell International. Like a van, the shuttle has a crew cabin up front and a big empty cargo area behind, with a pair of large doors to provide access.

  • "Runs incredibly rough for about two minutes" -- the shuttle solid rocket boosters burn for 124 seconds.

  • "There's kind of a jolt, and then it runs smooth, but only for about six and a half more minutes, then at that point the engine dies." -- the main engines run for a total of eight and a half minutes before main engine cutoff. The boosters, being solid rockets producing five times the thrust of the mains, are a much rougher ride.

  • "Two different vehicles by serial number, and both of them exactly the same thing." -- this rules out John Young! Both of his shuttle missions were on Columbia.

  • "When we use the brakes, they glow red-hot" -- Shuttle is the only crewed spacecraft which lands on wheels.

At this point, I confess I cheated and looked it up. The astronaut calling in was John Grunsfeld, during his second shuttle flight, STS-81 aboard Atlantis in 1997. He had previously flown STS-67 on Endeavour.

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Per Gizmodo's story on this (nothing special about the content, just clicked the first link on Google for "car talk space shuttle"):

This was John Grunsfeld, who was, at the time, aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on a STS-81, a mission to Mir.

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