The space shuttle program were one of the most amazing collection of technology and knowledge the world has ever seen. Unlike standard rockets seen which have been used for decades in previous space exploration, much of it can be reused for later missions. This not only saves resources and money, but moves us closer to the space ships we read about in so many science fiction novels. In this article we will discover some of the basic information associated with these decommissioned marvels of science.
The first space shuttle, named after the space ship in Star Trek, was the Enterprise. This ship was used mainly for testing with the aid of a modified Boeing 747 in the late 1970s and was not actually flown on missions due to changes in design. The first shuttle that flew actual missions was the Columbia starting in 1981. These missions primarily consisted of carrying large payloads to various orbits and retrieving other payloads. It was the only reusable manned space vehicle to ever enter full service and over the next 30 years, 5 different space shuttles accomplished a total of 135 missions.
Technically the term space shuttle refers to the entire assembly and not just the part people are most familiar with, which is called an orbiter vehicle and it is the part that is returned to its original location on Earth by a piggyback ride on a jet plane. This is also the part that gives each space shuttle its name. In addition to the orbiter vehicle, the space shuttle includes an external tank which is expendable, and the solid rocket boosters which are also reusable. These shuttles were launched vertically and were able to carry up to 50,000 lbs. of payload into low Earth orbit. The rocket boosters provide much of the needed speed to get to escape velocity, the speed needed to leave Earth’s gravity. They then drop off and open parachutes to be rescued in the ocean. All of the parts and piece that made up both the boosters and the shuttles were made by various companies and put together by NASA. Companies like Phoenix Specialty helped contribute to various programs and mission throughout the space shuttle’s tenure.
The crews that manned the shuttle included 355 people of all nationalities, backgrounds and ages. John Glenn, one of the original astronauts to walk on the moon in 1969, was the oldest crew member on a mission at 77 years old in 1998. The first American women astronauts were on shuttle missions, and the first civilians as well. These missions helped put the Hubble telescope into space so scientists could learn more about the universe, and brought needed people and supplies to the space stations.
Decommissioned and Beyond
After 30 years of service, the space shuttle program was retired in 2011. However the impact of this program is still felt today. Because of the technology developed for these missions, scientists are one step closer to colonizing other planets. The International Space Station, which owes a lot of its building and set up to the space shuttle missions, shows that people can live elsewhere besides on Earth. There are still many obstacles to remove before people can colonize other worlds, like increasing the speed of space travel, improving cryogenics, and other technologies that will make space travel more effective, but the space shuttle program was an important first step.