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The Birth Of the Space Shuttle

On 5 January 1972, United States president Richard Nixon announced that NASA was developing a reusable launch vehicle, the Space Shuttle.

president nixon nasa fletcher space shuttle announcement

US President Richard Nixon and James C. Fletcher, NASA Administrator on the day of the Space Shuttle program announcement

The Space Shuttle design was based on research that started in the 50s and 60s.

Space Shuttle Enterprise

The Space Shuttle Enterprise was the first semi-reusable spacecraft built-for NASA.

This first Space Shuttle was built with engines or heatshield, so its testing was limited to atmospheric test flights.

In 1977 the Enterprise had its first free flight after being launched from a modified Boeing 747:

space shuttle enterprise first flight

Space Shuttle Enterprise first free slight being launched from a Boeing 747

Initially, the Enterprise was supposed to be retrofitted with engines and heatshield. But while developing the Columbia, the design was changed to make it simpler and less costly to build.

In 1979, Space Shuttle orbiter 101 Enterprise was rolled out attached to a supportive containers and boosters cluster.

rollout space shuttle enterprise

Rollout of the Space Shuttle Enterprise, May 1979

The Enterprise went through a set of tests in preparation for the first real Space Shuttle launch, STS-1 with the Space Shuttle Columbia.

First Space Shuttle Launch: Columbia

rollout space shuttle columbia Arrival of STS-1 Space Shuttle Columbia a launch complex 39A in December 1980.

The first launch and orbital test flight took place on 12 April 1981.

launch space shuttle columbia

Launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia

Subsequent Space Shuttle Launches 

all space shuttle launches

In total five orbiter vehicles or OVs were built as part of the Space Shuttle program:

  • Columbia (OV-102)
  • Challenger (OV-099)
  • Discovery (OV-103)
  • Atlantis (OV-104)
  • Endeavour (OV-105)
Between 1981 and 2011, the Space Shuttles flew 135 missions with a total mission time of 1322 days, 19 hours, 21 minutes and 23 seconds.

    The total Space Shuttle program cost $210 billion, with each launch totalling $450 million.

    Space Shuttle disasters

    The Space Shuttle program also saw its share of failures.

    The Space Shuttle Challenger blew up 73 seconds after launch on 28 January 1973, killing all seven crew members.

    On 1 February 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry. All seven crew members died.

    Last Space Shuttle Flight 

    STS-135 was the final flight. Space Shuttle Atlantis launched for the last time from Kennedy Space Center on 8 July 2011.

    finals space shuttle atlantis launch

    The 8 day mission was a re-supply run to the International Space Station.

    On 21 July 2011 Space Shuttle Atlantis made its final re-entry on the way to the Kennedy Space Center In Florida.

    The picture below shows the plasma trail of the Atlantis entering Earth atmosphere. The picture was taken from the International Space Station

    space shuttle atlantis re-entry

    Space Shuttle Atlantis re-entry as seen from the ISS

    space shuttle atlantis landingTouchdown of Space Shuttle Atlantis on Airforce Base, marking the end of the Space Shuttle program. Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls


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