The space shuttle is the “world’s first reusable spacecraft,” launching like a rocket, orbiting like a spacecraft and landing like a plane.
Space shuttles could carry satellites, space probes, and other cargo into orbit around Earth on both commercial and non-commercial missions.
The space shuttle system was made up of three components:
- Twin solid rocket boosters. They provided 80% of the launch thrust.
- The external tank, which provided fuel to the space shuttle main engines during launch.
- The orbiter. It acted as the crew’s home during the flight.
All of the components were reused except for the external fuel tank. It burned up in the atmosphere after launch.
Crews ranged in size from five to seven people. More than 600 crew members flew on shuttle missions.
The longest any shuttle stayed in orbit on a single mission was 17.5 days, in November 1996.
The gross liftoff weight of the space shuttle was 4.5 million pounds.
Five shuttles flew into space during the program’s history: Atlantis, Challenger, Columbia, Discovery and Endeavour.
An early model of the shuttle, the Enterprise was used for approach and landing tests during the 1970s but it never actually launched into space.
Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour were each designed to fly 100 missions, though they flew much fewer than that.
March 24, 1979 - Columbia is delivered to the Kennedy Space Center.
April 12, 1981 - NASA sends its first shuttle into space, as Columbia launches from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
July 5, 1982 - Challenger is delivered to the Kennedy Space Center.
November 9, 1983 - Discovery is delivered to the Kennedy Space Center.