51B-34-098 Flight 51B; 27.7N, 91W, 30 April 1985
The observation and photography of ship wakes that most impressed oceanographers (and led to new scientific concepts) was made during the 61A mission of the Challenger. Yet, that significant discovery probably would not have been made had not a fortuitous photograph been taken during the 51B Spacelab flight in April of the same year.
The commander and pilot of the Challenger on Flight 51 B were observing and photographing the turbulence, shear lines, and internal waves in the Gulf of Mexico as the shuttle approached the coast south of New Orleans, Louisiana. So intent were they on the extreme complexity of the ocean in the gulf that they missed seeing two ships cruising toward the U.S. mainland. The ships were caught in one photograph, however, and presented, for the first time, Kelvin wakes that were clearly composed of a set of '-nested Vs." They can be seen in the lower right-hand corner of the photograph above. No such wakes had been observed before with the detail provided in the 51 B photograph. As a consequence, crews for future flights were briefed thoroughly on these ship-wake features.
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