Space shuttle

Sending rockets into space has always been incredibly expensive as well as wasteful.

The United States looked to NASA to design a reusable space exploration program and that’s when they designed the Space Shuttle program.

The goal was instead of sending the shuttle off with a hugely expensive rocket that used a lot of fuel, ejected a lot of parts into space and then have a craft land back to earth, they would instead create a shuttle.

The shuttle would piggy back on a low earth orbit jet, then use fuel to get into space and accomplish its mission, followed by acting as a glider for re-entry and landing back to Earth.

The Space Shuttle Program was officially called STS (Space Transportation System) and was carried out from 1981 through 2011.

The shuttle consisted of an orbiter launched with two solid rocket boosters that were reusable and a disposable external tank that could carry up to 8 astronauts.

While launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral, it would re-enter and land at either Edwards Air Force Base or back in Florida.

The idea of a space shuttle had been considered as far back as 1969.

A that time NASA was given a Space Task Group to work on concepts such as a permanent space station, reusable vehicles, and future missions to Mars.

Although the administration in Washington, D.C. wouldn’t commit to a Mars mission, in 1972 they did agree to the development of a space shuttle system that could achieve as many as fifty missions each year.

The first orbiter was supposed to be name “Constitution,” however, fans of the Star Trek television series had a massive write-in campaign to ask that it be called “Enterprise.”

On September 17, 1976 “Enterprise” (designate OV-101) was rolled out. Testing showed design validation of the shuttle and the program was officially born.

The Enterprise was launched using a specially modified Boeing 747 and had its first test in 1977 for ALT (initial atmospheric landing tests).

Five years later, the first space-worthy shuttle, Columbia, was launched in 1981. The last shuttle, Atlantis, retired after 2011 and the shuttle program officially ended.

During the space shuttle program, they sent many astronauts into space and it was the only winged manned spacecraft to ever achieve both orbit and landing, as well as the only reusable manned space vehicle used for multiple orbit flights.

The various missions included everything from carrying large payloads to a number of locations, including the ISS (International Space Station), providing crew rotation for the space station, and even performing service missions for repair.

The orbiters recovered satellites to bring back to Earth and was projected to last for around 10 years of operational time or 100 launches.

One of the most important missions was sending astronauts to the Hubble Space Telescope in the 1990 Discovery space shuttle.

The telescope’s mirror had an error that didn’t allow clear pictures. The astronauts arrived at the telescope to fix the problem by giving it “eye glasses.”

In addition to Enterprise, the names of the shuttles include:

  • Challenger (OV-99) 1982
  • Discovery (OV-103) 1983
  • Atlantis (OV-104) 1985
  • Endeavor 1991.

Although there were over 135 missions flown, two of the orbiters, Challenger and Columbia, experienced accidents that caused the loss of all 14 astronaut crew members.

These accidents led to a temporary halt to the program while NASA investigated and examined what went wrong.

One of the areas of concern had always involved the protective tiles on the outside of the shuttle.

These tiles were designed to allow the shuttle to get through the extreme heat of reentry but they could also fall off.

With the addition of many countries entering space exploration and the new interest from private companies, the cost of the shuttle program became too much.

NASA began to look into alternatives including the use of Russia’s rocket program to take U.S. astronauts to the space station and the new SpaceX reusable Dragon spacecraft.

Other countries are continuing to develop their space programs and this has encouraged shared missions. NASA is building a Space Launch System as well as the Orion spacecraft.

  • The Discovery space shuttle is in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
  • The shuttle program’s missions had more than any other space vehicle in history.
  • Between all of the space shuttles, they flew a total of 135 missions.
  • Although most of the equipment was reusable, the space shuttles were still very expensive.
  • The external tank of each space shuttle wasn’t reusable and had to be replaced each time there was a new launch.
  • The space shuttle was designed in the 1970’s and didn’t keep up with the newer designs by the 1980’s
  • The parts for the Shuttle became so difficult to find because no one made them anymore, so they resorted to buying them on eBay.
  • Russia’s space missions have been registered as being the most cost-effective and safe in human spaceflight.
  • The space shuttles actually never went very high: only 120-600 miles.
  • Although the original design was to have fifty missions each year, the space shuttles only averaged four flights each year.
  • The shuttles were only supposed to have a ten year lifespan, yet NASA kept them for 20 years, which reduced the ability to add new technologies.
  • The SpaceX “Dragon” has already been tested and docked with the ISS.
  • SpaceX has the latest technologies, with the ability to upgrade at will.
  • Other private companies getting into the space game include: Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace, XCOR, Orbital Sciences, and Boeing.


  • What was the name of the first space shuttle?
  • What were the two space shuttles that had disastrous accidents>
    Challenger and Columbia
  • How many years was a space shuttle supposed to last?
  • What space shuttle was the last one and retired in 2011?
  • What famous mission was the space shuttle sent on to fix something that went wrong?
    Hubble Space Telescope mission
  • What private company has already taken over the space race?