the Shuttle Works
launch of STS-1 demonstrated that a complex set of technologies
could work together to lift humans into space and bring them back
to Earth safely. The Shuttle (officially called the Space Transportation
System, or STS) is composed of a reusable, delta-winged orbiter
as well as an expendable External (fuel) Tank and two Solid Rocket
Boosters (SRBs). When the Shuttle lifts off at KSC, the three Space
Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) in the orbiter ignite along with the
SRBs. After approximately two minutes, the SRBs automatically drop
off and fall into the ocean; they are then retrieved by boat and
refurbished for future launches. Shortly before the Shuttle enters
Earth orbit, the External Tank drops off and burns up in the atmosphere.
Shuttle missions range from a few days to approximately two weeks.
Once the Shuttle mission is complete, the orbiter reenters the atmosphere
and glides unpowered to a landing at either KSC or the Dryden Flight
Research Center. If weather or other concerns dictate a landing
at the latter site, the orbiter is then attached to the top of a
large carrier aircraft that flies the Shuttle orbiter back to KSC
for processing and preparation for future flights.
Shuttle fleet consists of four orbiters: Atlantis, Columbia,
Discovery, and Endeavour; the orbiter Challenger
was lost in a accident that took the lives of its seven crew members
on 28 January 1986. There have been over 100 successful Shuttle
launches since the first launch in 1981.
April 5, 2001
Steven J. Dick, NASA Chief Historian
Steve Garber, NASA History Web Curator
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by Douglas Ortiz and edited by Lisa Jirousek
NASA Printing and