The US Space Shuttle
flew 135 times from 1981 to 2011, supporting Spacelab, Mir
, and the ISS. (Columbia's
first launch, which had a white external tank, shown)
A spacecraft is a vehicle or machine designed to fly in outer space. Spacecraft are used for a variety of purposes, including communications, earth observation, meteorology, navigation, space colonization, planetary exploration, and transportation of humans and cargo.
On a sub-orbital spaceflight, a spacecraft enters space and then returns to the surface, without having gone into an orbit. For orbital spaceflights, spacecraft enter closed orbits around the Earth or around other celestial bodies. Spacecraft used for human spaceflight carry people on board as crew or passengers from start or on orbit (space stations) only, whereas those used for robotic space missions operate either autonomously or telerobotically. Robotic spacecraft used to support scientific research are space probes. Robotic spacecraft that remain in orbit around a planetary body are artificial satellites. Only a handful of interstellar probes, such as Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and 2, and New Horizons, are on trajectories that leave the Solar System.
Orbital spacecraft may be recoverable or not. By method of reentry to Earth they may be divided in non-winged space capsules and winged spaceplanes.
Humanity has achieved space flight but only a few nations have the technology for orbital launches: Russia (RSA or "Roscosmos"), the United States (NASA), the member states of the European Space Agency (ESA), Japan (JAXA), China (CNSA), India (ISRO), Taiwan (National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, Taiwan National Space Organization (NSPO), Israel (ISA), Iran (ISA), and North Korea (NADA).