The NASA space shuttle program, officially known as the Space Transportation System of the US government, began in late 1960s. In 1981, Columbia was the first space shuttle to travel into space. Since then, NASA has launched five space shuttles for numerous missions. It cannot be said that the space shuttle was invented by a single person. It is actually a large project developed by NASA. George Mueller played a key role in the development. Therefore, he is sometimes referred as the 'Father of the Space Shuttle.'
A space shuttle is made up of three parts: orbiter, external tank, and two solid rocket boosters. The orbiter is the place where the crew lives and works. It is also the only part to go into orbit. The external tank (that is orange in color) is filled with fuel for the shuttle and is connected to the orbiter. The two solid rocket boosters (that are thin and long) are used to send out thrust during the space shuttle launch. The launching of a space shuttle is like a rocket. The boosters burn, thrust, and then are dropped from the shuttle. The external tank also falls off, once the fuel is used up by the orbiter. The orbiter alone goes into the orbit. After its mission is accomplished, the orbiter moves out of orbit and enters the Earth's atmosphere, like a glider.
Space Shuttle Facts and Information
- Space shuttles are the most advanced and complex machines ever made by human beings. They are vehicles that carry humans into space.
- Space shuttles are world's first reusable spacecrafts.
- They are used to launch satellites and also to fix other spacecrafts. They are like a science labs in space. They are also used to launch space telescopes, like the Hubble Space Telescope. Space shuttle applications include crew rotation and servicing of Mir and International Space Service (ISS).
- The International Space Service was established in 1997 to help government organizations to conduct space activities. Mir was Russia's space station located in space. It was accessible to astronauts and cosmonauts of many countries. Space shuttles Discovery, Endeavor, and Atlantis have docked into Mir during their missions. In 2001, the Russian Space Agency guided Mir back to the Earth.
- The weight of a space shuttle is 240,000 lb (110,000 kg), while its entire length is 184 ft (56 m).
- The speed of a shuttle is 17,500 mph.
- Around $150-$175 billion is the total cost of a space shuttle program.
- Columbia was the first in the space shuttle program, making its debut from the Kennedy Space Center.
- In 1996, Columbia landed on Earth after 17 days, ending the longest space mission in history.
- Columbia was used for 27 missions, till 2003. During its 28th mission, it was destroyed while landing on the Earth, killing all the seven crew members.
- Challenger, NASA's second space shuttle, was launched in 1983. It carried the first American woman, Sally Ride, in space.
- In 1986, during its 10th mission, Challenger disintegrated immediately after its launch, causing death of all the seven crew members.
- Space Shuttle Discovery, launched in 1984, has made 36 trips in space. It was also the first space shuttle to be launched after nearly two years since the Columbia disaster.
- Endeavor and Atlantis, till date, have completed 22 and 30 missions, respectively. Endeavor was launched amid tight security in 2001, after the terrorist attacks.
- The food eaten by astronauts is stored in packages that prevents it from 'flying away'. It consists of peanut butter, fruits, nuts, chicken, beef, etc. Usually, ready-to-eat food is used. Salt and pepper in powder form is never used, as it floats away on sprinkling. An oven is provided for heating food.
Although faced with many criticisms about its costs and safety issues, a space shuttle is a real wonder that has benefited mankind in many ways. It continues to enthrall millions of people all over the world!