NASA Space Shuttle


The US Space Shuttle was first launched in 1981. It had flown more than 135 missions between 1981 and 2011. Space Shuttle was used to construct and supply the International Space Station.

Space Shuttle Launch Picture

Space Shuttle Orbiter

Shuttle Picture

The Space Shuttle stack consisted of :

1. Space Shuttle Orbiter,
2. 2 solid rocket boosters (SRBs) and
3. an expendable external tank (ET).

The Orbiter used 3 SSME Rocket Engines which used Liquid Hydrogen and Liquid Oxygen as propellants.

The payload was carried in the cargo bay. In is main role, the space shuttle delivered satellites into orbit releasing them from the cargo bay with the robotic arm. One of the most famous payloads is the Hubble Space Telescope.

The European Space Agency’s modular Spacelab was carried in the Space Shuttle’s cargo bay on 25 missions. The lab more than doubled the Shuttle’s habitable volume.

Interesting Facts and Specs:

Space Shuttle Length:          56.14 m (184.2 feet)
Orbiter Length:                     37.23 m (122.17 feet)
Maximum Cargo to Orbit:     28,803 Kgs (63,500 pounds)
Orbiter Height on Runway:  17.27 m (56.67 feet)
Wingspan:                            23.79 m (78.06 feet)
Weight at Lift-off:                2,041,166 kgs (4.5 million pounds)
Weight End of Mission:        104,326 kgs (230,000 pounds) (Maximum Landing Weight)
Crew: Up to 7 people
Total Launches: 135 missions

Note: Weight varied depending on payloads and on-board consumables.

Space Shuttle Launch:

The Space Shuttle was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. There were plans in the 1980’s to launch the space Shuttle from Vandenberg in California.

NASA would start a countdown 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 we have lift off! Space Shuttle Orbiter of next mission etc.

T-minus Zero: On lift-off the Solid Rocket Boosters and Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) generated a combined 7.3 millions pounds of  thrust.

T-plus 126 Seconds: The two Solid Rocket Motors (SRBs) would separate two minutes after launch after their fuel is depleted. The boosters parachute into the ocean for recovery and re-use.

T-Plus 8 Minutes 30 Seconds: Engine Shutdown: Just before the fuel in the external tank runs out, commands are sent to the main engines to shut them down. Burning the fuel tank dry would destroy the engines.

T-Plus 8 Minutes 40 Seconds: External Tank Separation would separate at approx 8.5 minutes after launch at altitude: 109.26 km (59 miles) at velocity 28,067 kph (17,440 mph). Explosive bolts would break the connections between the tank and orbiter. The tank would fall back towards the Earth breaking up in the atmosphere over the ocean.

Orbit: To prevent the Orbiter from falling back into the atmosphere, the small Space Shuttle Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) rockets are fired. This puts the Space Shuttle into a stable orbit. The Space Shuttle orbiter could travel to Earth Orbit from 185 km to 643 kms (115 to 400 miles) at Velocity: 27,875 kph (17,321 mph).


There were 5 shuttles in the US fleet:

1Columbia (1981)
2. Discovery (1983)
3Atlantis (1985)
5. Challenger and
5Endeavour (1991) – replaced Challenger.

Enterprise was used for atmospheric test flights but not intended for orbital flight.

Each Space Shuttle had a toilet that can be used by both men and women. Astronauts brushed their teeth just like they do on Earth. There ws no shower on the orbiter, so astronauts used sponge baths until they returned to Earth.

Solid Rocket Motors

The solid rocket motor (SRM) were the first solid rocket motor designed for re-use and were the largest to be flown on manned missions. The 2 SRB’s were attached to the external tank! The SRM’s were manufactured by Thiokol in Birmingham City, Utah.

Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) provided 71.4% of lift-off thrust.

External Tank

External Fuel Tank (ET) carried fuel: Liquid Hydrogen and Liquid Oxygen for the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME).


Endeavour was built to replace Challenger when it was lost in January 1986. Columbia broke up during reentry in February 2003.

The Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster happened on 1st February, 2003.

Space Shuttle Names

NASA named Space Shuttles for famous exploration sailing ships. The orbiters were: Atlantis, Challenger, Columbia, Discovery, Endeavour and Enterprise (prototype vehicle).


NASA’s Space Shuttle Program was officially called Space Transportation System (STS) which ran from 1981 to 2011. Each Space Shuttle mission was designated with the prefix ‘STS’.

The average cost to launch a Space Shuttle was about $450 million per mission.

Space shuttle Picture

You can also view a variety of Shuttle pictures.


–  First orbital spaceflight of NASA’s Space Shuttle program was STS-1. Columbia was the first orbiter. It was launched on 12 April 1981.

–  First Operational Flight of the Space Shuttle was STS-5. It was the first mission to carry four astronauts. It launched on 11 November 1982.

–  First American Woman in Space was Sally Ride. She was a crew member on Space Shuttle Challenger mission STS-7.

–  First night launch and landing of a Space Shuttle was on STS-8 (Challenger). It was launched 30 August, 1983. It also carried Guion Bluford, the first African-American astronaut.

–   First untethered spacewalk was made by American Bruce McCandless II using the Manned Maneuvering Unit on 7 February, 1984 during Challenger STS-41-B mission.

–    First landing at Kennedy Space Center was Challenger Orbiter (STS-41-B) on 11 February, 1984.

–  First non-American astronaut to fly on the Space Shuttle was Ulf Merbold, payload specialist with the European Space Agency on STS-9 (Columbia) in 1984. The mission also carried the first Spacelab laboratory module into orbit.

First Space Shuttle to visit Mir Space Station was STS-63 in 1995. Also first shuttle mission to have female pilot (Eileen Collins).

First American woman to walk in space was Kathryn Sullivan on STS-41G (Challenger) in 1984.

–  Launch of the Hubble Space Telescope on STS-31. It was launched on Discovery on 24 April 24, 1990.

–  First married couple to fly in space together were Mark Lee and Jan Davis on STS-47 (Endeavour) in 1992.

–  First Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS) was STS-88. It was flown by Space Shuttle Endeavour on 4 December, 1998 and took Unity Node, the first American module to the station.

–  First Person to Use Twitter in Space was astronaut Michael J. Massimino, a crewmember of the Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-125 mission on 11 May, 2009.

The last Space Shuttle Mission was STS-135. It was the 135th, final mission of the American Space Shuttle program and final flight of Atlantis. It was launched on 8 July, 2011.

Where are the Space Shuttles Located:

All retired NASA space vehicles belong to the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum.

Space Shuttle Enterprise is on display in the McDonnell Space Hangar at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Chantilly, Virginia.

Future Space Shuttle

Nasa started the Space Launch Intiative in 2001 in order to find a shuttle successor with a planned replacement date of 2012. The program was replaced with the Orbital Space Plane concept which was going to function as a small space taxi to the ISS. In January 2004 Project Constellation was announced and the new Crew Exploration Vehicle was going to be Orion. The CEV design for the ISS was a capsule. It was going be launched by Ares I and not on top of a Delta 4 or Atlas V.

Nasa announced in 2014 that Boeing and SpaceX were going to build private spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. As of 2017 neither CST-100 or Dragon have flown to the ISS crewed.

Shuttle Boosters

Did you know?

The Space Shuttle is carried on the same crawler transporter that moved the Saturn 5 rockets from the assembly building to the launch pad.

The Space Shuttle’s Heat Shield contained more than 30,000 tiles.

The Space Shuttle could not fly to the Moon because carry enough propellant to leave Earth’s orbit.


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