The Space Shuttle Era
NASA, Public domain (link).
Throughout the history of space exploration, there has been a main space craft that has been used. Currently in the U.S., this craft is the space shuttle, which replaced the Apollo rockets.
The shuttle was first thought of in 1970. It was recommended when two space technology experts joined with a society called the Space Task Group. Their job was to help the group brainstorm ideas about ways to improve future space exploration. In a meeting they came up with an idea for a new and safer way of transportation. Designs for the first shuttle began and took on the look of an airplane. When the president approved of plans for the new craft, work on it began. Construction of the shuttle took place in three different states. Finally when all parts of the shuttle were finished, they were moved to a launching area and assembled.
The space shuttle is designed to be used again and again. The shuttle is attached to an external tank, which is a giant orange fuel tank, and two rocket boosters running on a propellant called PBAN. The shuttle itself, also called the orbiter, is the only part of the craft that is occupied. Upon launch, the two boosters fall away from the external tank to float back to Earth on parachutes, and minutes later the tank detaches from the orbiter (or shuttle) and burns up in the atmosphere. When the shuttle returns to earth from orbit, it lands much like a glider.
The Shuttle Fleet and Launches
All of the shuttle fleet, except for the test shuttle Enterprise, were named after famous ships.
The first shuttle, the Enterprise, was launched in 1977. This test craft made several successful launches—though it never went into outer space, just to the edge of space— and showed it was safe for more shuttles to launch.
The Columbia was the first shuttle in history to be launched into space. It was named after a navy ship that sailed around the world. It flew on its first journey in 1981. Unfortunately, it exploded in 2001 while reentering earth’s atmosphere. In this tragic disaster the whole crew was killed.
NASA, Public domain (link).
The Challenger, first launched in 1982, was the second shuttle launched into space. It completed nine missions before a tenth disaster in 1986. On its tenth mission, the Challenger’s rocket boosters didn’t work properly causing a large ball of smoke to form. All seven crew members died in this tragedy.
Discovery, the third shuttle, worked well and is currently working today. Discovery was launched first in 1998.
Atlantis is the well-working forth shuttle, and it joined the fleet in 1985. Since the shuttle makers had now already made three shuttles, Atlantis’s construction took only four years.
Endeavour was the last shuttle made. First launched in 1992, it was a replacement for the Challenger and had a new drag chute attached to it. Its name was chosen by school children.
Even though shuttles have worked well through the years, many people are thinking of retiring them. In fact the last space shuttle is scheduled to launch in 2010. NASA’s Orion spacecraft, currently in development, will replace the shuttle fleet.