With the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle, the curtain rises on an era that will shape U.S. space exploration for the next decade, and perhaps for the remainder of the century. Columbia and her sister ships will be far more than odd-looking heavy-lift launch vehicles, though they will be that. Each Space Shuttle will be an element in a total transportation system linking Earth with space: vehicles, ground facilities, a communications net, trained crews, established freight rates and flight schedules-and the prospect of numerous important and exciting tasks to be done.
Columbia will be as different from previous one-use space vehicles as an ocean freighter differs from the Clermont. Although the Space Shuttle has been a long time in development and won't be workaday for several years, it will transform space travel. We will go into space not just to meet the challenge of exploration but to do many useful and productive jobs, at reduced cost, returning again and again. We are initiating an era of "routine utilization" of space, and it signifies a new epoch in the history of the planet.
As the Space Shuttle first ascends above the atmosphere, it is fitting to describe the new space transportation system: how it came to be, why it is designed the way it is, what we expect of it, how it may grow. This book is such a description. All new technologies can be expected to undergo change and adaptation. It is natural for an endeavor as revolutionary as the Space Shuttle to develop in different and unforeseen ways. For this reason, an account of the initial expectations for this remarkable venture should have value. I commend the following narrative that describes how the United States plans to make space an extension of life on the Earth's surface.
ADLAI E. STEVENSON