NASA’s space shuttle program was first launched on April 12, 1981 with shuttle Columbia. Since then, the space shuttle program has launched over 100 flights, with two more planned before the program is formally decommissioned in July 2011. After that, the space shuttles will be made safe for public viewings and delivered to museums.
The space shuttles consist of 3 major parts: the orbiter, which is what the crew of missions fly; the external fuel tank, which is the large orange craft the orbiter is often seen attached to; and the two solid rocket boosters, which provide the initial power for the shuttle to liftoff. The missions bring crews into a low orbit over earth to make repairs to satellites and space telescopes, conduct science experiments in space and station astronauts on the International Space Station.
The space shuttle program has not been without its difficulties. Two high profile disasters, one with the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia shortly after its launch in 1986 and the second disintegration occurred to the space shuttle Columbia during its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003.
As NASA retires the space shuttle program, it has begun support of private space flight businesses to keep astronauts going to space while the agency itself begins plans for deep space exploration.
(Text by Noel Kirkpatrick)
(Photo via Wikipedia)