Space Shuttle program

Space Shuttle program
Shuttle Patch.svg
Country of originUnited States of America
Responsible organizationNASA
PurposeRoutine Earth-to-orbit crew and cargo transport
Program history
Cost$196 billion (2011)
Program duration1972–2011
First flightALT-12 August 12, 1977
First crewed flightSTS-1 April 12, 1981
Last flightSTS-135 July 21, 2011
Challenger (launch failure, 7 fatalities),
Columbia (re-entry failure, 7 fatalities)
Launch site(s)LC-39, Kennedy Space Center
Vehicle information
Vehicle typeReusable space plane
Crew vehicleSpace Shuttle orbiter
Crew capacity8 (emergency: 11)
Launch vehicle(s)Space Shuttle stack

The Space Shuttle program was the fourth human spaceflight program carried out by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which accomplished routine transportation for Earth-to-orbit crew and cargo from 1981 to 2011. Its official name, Space Transportation System (STS), was taken from a 1969 plan for a system of reusable spacecraft of which it was the only item funded for development.[1]

The Space Shuttle—composed of an orbiter launched with two reusable solid rocket boosters and a disposable external fuel tank—carried up to eight astronauts and up to 50,000 lb (23,000 kg) of payload into low Earth orbit (LEO). When its mission was complete, the orbiter would re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and land like a glider at either the Kennedy Space Center or Edwards Air Force Base.

The Shuttle is the only winged manned spacecraft to have achieved orbit and landing, and the only reusable manned space vehicle that has ever made multiple flights into orbit (the Russian shuttle Buran was very similar and was designed to have the same capabilities but made only one unmanned spaceflight before it was cancelled). Its missions involved carrying large payloads to various orbits (including segments to be added to the International Space Station (ISS)), providing crew rotation for the space station, and performing service missions. The orbiter also recovered satellites and other payloads (e.g., from the ISS) from orbit and returned them to Earth, though its use in this capacity was rare. Each vehicle was designed with a projected lifespan of 100 launches, or 10 years' operational life, though original selling points on the shuttles were over 150 launches and over a 15-year operational span with a 'launch per month' expected at the peak of the program, but extensive delays in the development of the International Space Station[2] never created such a peak demand for frequent flights.


Various shuttle concepts had been explored since the late 1960s. The program formally commenced in 1972, becoming the sole focus of NASA's manned operations after the Apollo, Skylab, and Apollo-Soyuz programs in 1975. The Shuttle was originally conceived of and presented to the public in 1972 as a 'Space Truck' which would, among other things, be used to build a United States space station in low Earth orbit during the 1980s and then be replaced by a new vehicle by the early 1990s. The stalled plans for a U.S. space station evolved into the International Space Station and were formally initiated in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, but the ISS suffered from long delays, design changes and cost over-runs[2] and forced the service life of the Space Shuttle to be extended several times until 2011 when it was finally retired—serving twice as long than it was originally designed to do. In 2004, according to President George W. Bush's Vision for Space Exploration, use of the Space Shuttle was to be focused almost exclusively on completing assembly of the ISS, which was far behind schedule at that point.

The first experimental orbiter Enterprise was a high-altitude glider, launched from the back of a specially modified Boeing 747, only for initial atmospheric landing tests (ALT). Enterprise's first test flight was on February 18, 1977, only five years after the Shuttle program was formally initiated; leading to the launch of the first space-worthy shuttle Columbia on April 12, 1981 on STS-1. The Space Shuttle program finished with its last mission, STS-135 flown by Atlantis, in July 2011, retiring the final Shuttle in the fleet. The Space Shuttle program formally ended on August 31, 2011.[3]

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