The mission had two primary objectives. The first was to deploy the huge Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF), which carried 57 experiments contributed by researchers from eight countries. The LDEF was left on orbit and retrieved during a later mission. The second objective was to capture, repair and re-deploy the malfunctioning Solar Maximum Mission satellite, Solar Max, launched in 1980.
On the third day of the mission, Challenger's orbit was raised to about 300 miles, and it maneuvered to within 200 feet of Solar Max. Using the Manned Maneuvering Unit, crewmembers flew out to the satellite and attempted to grasp it with a special capture tool called the Trunnion Pin Acquisition Device (TPAD). Three attempts to clamp the TPAD onto the satellite failed. It began tumbling and the effort was called off. During the night, the Solar Max Payload Operational Control Center at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland was able to establish control of the satellite by sending commands ordering the magnetic torque bars to stabilize the tumbling action. This was successful, and the Solar Max was successfully retrieved and repaired.
Life sciences experiments performed during the STS-41C mission were those classified as Detailed Supplementary Objectives (DSOs). A DSO is a NASA-sponsored investigation performed by Space Shuttle crewmembers, who also serve as test subjects. These studies are designed to require minimal crew time, power and stowage. Biomedical DSOs focus on operational concerns, including space motion sickness, cardiovascular deconditioning, muscle loss, changes in coordination and balance strategies, radiation exposure, pharmacokinetics and changes in the body's biochemistry.
Other payloads were the IMAX cargo bay camera; Radiation Monitoring Equipment: Cinema 360; and a Shuttle Student Involvement Program experiment designed to study how honeybees make honeycomb cells in a microgravity environment.
The STS-41C mission was extended by one day to retrieve the Solar Maximum Mission Satellite. Landing was diverted to Edwards Air Force Base in California when the planned landing at Kennedy Space Center was scrubbed. Challenger landed safely on April 13, 1984, after an extra orbit to facilitate landing at Edwards Air Force Base.