Manned spacecraft was first considered possible in the 1950s. They were perceived as big machines that could, like aircraft, be used many times. But the idea of putting humans into space was made political when the United States and the USSR started a cold-war space race. Both countries thought that the fastest way to send a person into space was through a space capsule. These could be put into space through the use of rockets and then re-enter back onto Earth then be recovered in the ocean. (Yenne 105)
The capsules were quite simple in design and were supposed to be used once. Both nations launched capsules at around the same time. The USA used 31 capsules until 1971 and USSR used 100 capsules until 1990. No other nation has ever launched a capsule. The first re-useable craft built for space was the X-20 but it was cancelled because the capsules were more effective but when the USA ended the program in 1971, they decided to make a winged aircraft called the Space Shuttle. It was designed to be used over and over again without being discarded. The device when finally built, included a huge fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters. (Yenne 105)
The first mission was on the Columbia when it was lauched April
12, 1981. It was a four day flight which was quite short when
compared to the average flight now of 13 days. There were 24
successful missions until the Shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986.
Flights started back up in 1988 and have continuted almost
flawlessly ever since. (Yenne 105) References
Yenne, Bill. 100 Inventions That Shaped World History. San Francisco: Bluewood Books, 1993.