The space shuttle is the “world’s first reusable spacecraft,” launching like a rocket, orbiting like a spacecraft and landing like a plane.
Space shuttles could carry satellites, space probes, and other cargo into orbit around Earth on both commercial and non-commercial missions.
The space shuttle system was made up of three components:
- Twin solid rocket boosters. They provided 80% of the launch thrust.
- The external tank, which provided fuel to the space shuttle main engines during launch.
- The orbiter. It acted as the crew’s home during the flight.
All of the components were reused except for the external fuel tank. It burned up in the atmosphere after launch.
Crews ranged in size from five to seven people. More than 600 crew members flew on shuttle missions.
The longest any shuttle stayed in orbit on a single mission was 17.5 days, in November 1996.
The gross liftoff weight of the space shuttle was 4.5 million pounds.
Five shuttles flew into space during the program’s history: Atlantis, Challenger, Columbia, Discovery and Endeavour.
An early model of the shuttle, the Enterprise was used for approach and landing tests during the 1970s but it never actually launched into space.
The Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour were each designed to fly 100 missions, though they flew much fewer than that.
March 24, 1979 - The Columbia is delivered to the Kennedy Space Center.
April 12, 1981 - NASA sends its first shuttle into space, as the Columbia launches from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
July 5, 1982 - The Challenger is delivered to the Kennedy Space Center.
November 9, 1983 - The Discovery is delivered to the Kennedy Space Center.
April 13, 1985 - The Atlantis is delivered to the Kennedy Space Center.
January 28, 1986 - The Challenger explodes minutes after launch due to faulty O-rings in the shuttle’s rocket booster. All seven crew members die, including Christa McAuliffe, who would have been the first teacher in space. Flights do not resume for more than two years.
June 27, 1995 - The Atlantis is launched, marking the 100th US human space launch.
June 29, 1995 - The Atlantis docks at the Russian space station Mir.
February 1, 2003 - The Columbia explodes over Texas during re-entry. All seven crew members are killed.
August 9, 2005 - The Discovery lands at Edwards AFB in California.
July 4, 2006 - The Discovery is launched.
July 17, 2006 - The Discovery lands at Kennedy Space Center.
September 9, 2006 - The Atlantis launches. The six astronauts conduct three spacewalks and deliver and install a 35,000-pound addition with giant solar arrays to power the International Space Station. The shuttle lands on September 21, 2006 at the Kennedy Space Center.
December 9, 2006 - The Discovery lifts off, beginning a 12-day mission. The crew of seven continues construction on the International Space Station by rewiring the orbiting laboratory and adding a two-ton segment to its integrated truss structure.
June 8, 2007 - The Atlantis launches, carrying a crew of seven astronauts headed for the International Space Station. The crew plans to install a new segment and solar panels on the space station and retrieve astronaut Sunita Williams, who has been at the space station since December.
June 23, 2007 - The Atlantis lands at Edwards Air Force Base in California, the first time a shuttle has landed at Edwards since 2005. Aboard Atlantis is Williams, returning from the International Space Station where she set an endurance record for the longest single spaceflight for a woman (195 days) and the record for most time spent spacewalking by a woman.
August 8, 2007 - The Endeavour launches, carrying teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan and six crew mates.
October 23, 2007 - The Discovery launches. Aboard Discovery is Harmony, an Italian-built live-in compartment that will be attached to the ISS. Discovery is under the command of Pamela Melroy, the second woman to lead a space shuttle mission.
November 7, 2007 - The Discovery lands at Kennedy Space Center, with Melroy becoming the second woman to land a space shuttle. Returning with the shuttle is Clayton Anderson, who had been on board the ISS since June.
February 7, 2008 - The Atlantis launches, carrying the ISS’s newest science lab, named Columbus. The Atlantis also drops off French Air Force General Leopold Eyharts, who will replace NASA astronaut Daniel Tani.
March 11, 2008 - The Endeavour launches, the first night launch for a shuttle since 2006 and only the second night launch since Columbia disintegrated during re-entry. The shuttle is headed to the ISS, where it will deliver a Canadian-built robot named Dextre and the first part of the Japanese-built Kibo lab. Also on board is astronaut Garrett Reisman, who is replacing Léopold Eyharts.
May 31, 2008 - The Discovery launches with the purpose of transporting components for the Kibo lab, as well as a Japanese Remote Manipulator System to be attached to the ISS. Flight Engineer Garrett Reisman will leave with the Discovery crew and be replaced by Greg Chamtoff.
November 14, 2008 - The Endeavour launches. The crew of seven will renovate a kitchen and bathroom on the International Space Station and are delivering a new refrigerator.
March 15, 2009 - The Discovery launches. The shuttle is headed to the ISS to deliver the final set of solar array wings. With the completed array, the station is expected to be able to provide enough electricity when the crew size is doubled to six in May
February 24, 2011 - The Discovery launches on its final mission.
March 9, 2011 - The Discovery lands at Kennedy Space Center. Discovery has spent 365 days in space during the course of its 39 missions, the first of which was in August 1984. It has orbited Earth 5,830 times and traveled 148,221,675 miles.
April 12, 2011 - NASA announces the locations that will host the retired space shuttles:
- Atlantis will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida
- Endeavour will be displayed at the California Science Center in Los Angeles
- Discovery will be displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia
- Enterprise will be displayed at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York
April 29, 2011 - The Endeavour’s final launch is delayed due to an issue with the shuttle’s heating system. The shuttle ultimately launches on May 16, 2011.
July 8, 2011 - The Atlantis launches. This is the space shuttle program’s final mission.
July 21, 2011 - The Atlantis lands at Kennedy Space Center, marking the sunset of the space shuttle program.
April 19, 2012 - The Discovery arrives at its new home, the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington.
April 27, 2012-June 6, 2012 - The Enterprise makes a three-part trip to its new home at the Intrepid in New York. The first leg of its journey is a ferry flight atop a Boeing 747 from Washington to New York. The Enterprise is then trucked to the waterfront, towed up the Hudson River and hoisted onto the deck of the Intrepid via a floating crane.
September 19-21, 2012 - The Endeavour takes a three-day ferry flight from Cape Canaveral to Los Angeles International Airport on a farewell tour across the southern United States.
October 12-14, 2012 - The Endeavour is transported approximately 12 miles, at a top speed of 2 mph, from the Los Angeles International Airport, through the streets of Inglewood and Los Angeles to the California Science Center. Trees, traffic signs, utility poles and other structures in the path of Endeavour’s wings cause hours of delays.
June 29, 2013 - The Atlantis exhibit opens at the Kennedy Space Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
June 27, 2015 - The “Forever Remembered” display, which features a 12-foot section of fuselage from the Challenger and the flight deck windows from Columbia, opens in the Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center.