The Space Shuttle

Updated: Aug 10, 2019

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The Space Shuttle was, as Wikipedia says: "The Space Shuttle was a partially reusable low Earth orbital spacecraft system operated by [NASA] as part of the Space Shuttle program." The Space Shuttle was used for many things, including launching satellites, serving as an orbital science laboratory, repairing/improving other spacecraft (e.g. Hubble Space Telescope), and to work on the ISS (International Space Station).

The Parts of the Space Shuttle

The Space Shuttle had three large parts. The first part was the orbiter. NASA says, "The orbiter was the large space plane where the crew lived and worked. It was the only part of the shuttle that flew into orbit. The orbiter also had a payload bay for carrying cargo into orbit." The second part of the Shuttle, seen under it, is the external tank. NASA says, "This was the large orange fuel tank that was attached to the bottom of the orbiter for launch." After the SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters) had burned out, the external tank provided fuel to the engines of the Shuttle so that the Shuttle would not have to use its own fuel. The third large part of the Space Shuttle came in two parts. NASA says, "A pair of solid rocket boosters provided most of the thrust for the first two minutes of a shuttle launch. The solid rocket boosters were long and thin."

Photo by NASA on In this photo, you can clearly see the orbiter, external fuel tank, and solid rocket boosters.

How it Took off and Landed

The cool thing about the space shuttle is that it took off like a rocket and landed like a glider. NASA says, "The space shuttle took off like a rocket. The solid rocket boosters and the main engines on the orbiter provided the thrust for launch. The solid rocket boosters burned for about two minutes. Then the boosters dropped from the shuttle and fell into the ocean." The boosters were then picked up from where they had fallen into the ocean by special ships. NASA continues, "The shuttle’s main engines fired for another six minutes. The external tank dropped off the orbiter and then burned up in Earth’s atmosphere. At this point, the shuttle and its crew were in orbit. The orbiter landed like a glider. While in orbit, it fired its engines to slow down. After re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, it glided in for a landing on a runway. When the orbiter touched down on the runway, a parachute opened to help slow it down." Most Space Shuttles landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Photo by Linda Perry on This photo is of the Space Shuttle touching down.

The Missions

The first flight of the Space Shuttle Program was STS-1, launched on April 12, 1981. It was flown with the orbiter Columbia. The last flight was STS-135, flown with the orbiter Atlantis. STS-135 was launched on July 8, 2011.

Where Can I See The Orbiters Today?

There are 4 orbiters (Including the test shuttle, Enterprise) on display in museums around the country today. The orbiter Atlantis, which flew the last flight of the Space Shuttle Program (STS-135) is on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The orbiter Discovery is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The orbiter Endeavour is located at the California Science Center. The test Shuttle, Enterprise, is located at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space museum in New York City.

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