The Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle ProgramAs the Apollo space program was coming to an end, the officials at NASA were already working on a more efficient spacecraft that they could reuse over and over again instead of the current disposable rockets that wasted time money each time another one needed to be built. This idea of a reusable rocket that could launch astronauts into space, but dock and land like an airplane was a well accepted project for future space travel.Enter the Space Shuttle.

In 1972, President Nixon announced that NASA would develop a reusable space transportation system (STS). NASA decided that the shuttle would consist of an orbiter attached to solid rocket boosters and an external fuel tank. This design was considered safer and more cost effective.

One of the first obstacles was to design a spacecraft that didn’t use ablative heat shields, which subsequently burned up each time the spacecraft re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. For the shuttle to be reusable, a different strategy would have to be initiated. The designers came up with an idea to overlay the craft with insulating ceramic tiles that would absorb the heat of reentry, without causing any danger to the astronauts.

Space Shuttle leaving orbit
Amazing photo from the International Space Station of the Space Shuttle leaving orbit.

The first of four test flights began in 1981, leading to operational flights beginning in 1982. They were used on a total of 135 missions from 1981 to 2011. The launchpad used was the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Like the previous Saturn V rocket, the Space Shuttle had different components of its own, which  included the Orbiter Vehicle (OV), a pair of recoverable solid rocket boosters (SRBs) and the expendable external tank (ET), containing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as fuel.

The Shuttle was launched vertically, same as any rocket in its category would launch, using the two SRBs to jettison it. The SRBs operated in a parallel fashion by utilizing the fuel from the ET.

Once the mission had been completed, the shuttle would land similar to an jet aircraft on the runway of the Shuttle Landing Facility of KSC or Rogers Dry Lake in Edwards Air Force Base, California. After landing at the base, the orbiter was then flown back to the KSC on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, which was a specially modified Boeing 747.

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