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Space Shuttle Basics


Space Shuttle Basics

Space Shuttle Basics

The world's first reusable spacecraft, the Space Shuttle is the first spacecraft in history that can carry large satellites both to and from orbit. It launches like a rocket, maneuvers in Earth orbit like a spacecraft and lands like an airplane. Each of the three Space Shuttle orbiters now in operation (Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour) is designed to fly at least 100 missions. Altogether they have flown a combined total of less than 1/4 of that.

Columbia was the first Space Shuttle orbiter to be delivered to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, in March 1979. Columbia and the STS-107 crew were lost Feb. 1, 2003, during re-entry. The Orbiter Challenger was delivered to KSC in July 1982 and was destroyed in an explosion in January 1986. Discovery was delivered in November 1983. Atlantis was delivered in April 1985. Endeavour was built as a replacement following the Challenger accident and was delivered in May 1991. An early Space Shuttle Orbiter, the Enterprise, never flew in space but was used for approach and landing tests at the Dryden Flight Research Center and other studies in the late 1970s.

The Space Shuttle consists of three major components: the Orbiter housing the crew; a large External Tank that holds fuel for the main engines; and two Solid Rocket Boosters which provide most of the Shuttle's lift during the first two minutes of flight. All of the components are reused except for the external fuel tank, which burns up in the atmosphere after each launch.

The longest the Shuttle has stayed in orbit on any single mission is 17.5 days on mission STS-80 in November 1996. Normally, missions are planned from five to 16 days in duration. The smallest crew ever to fly on the Shuttle numbered two people on early missions and the largest numbered eight people. Normally, crews may range in size from five to seven people. The Shuttle is designed to reach orbits ranging from about 115 statute miles to 400 statute miles high.

Since 1981, the space shuttle has boosted more than 3 million lbs of cargo into orbit. More than than 600 crew members have flown on its missions.

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