This fall, we are exploring how space inspires progress. Solve space today by unscrambling this image of the world’s first reusable spacecraft, NASA’s space shuttle. This unique vehicle had a profound impact on the history of human spaceflight and paved the way for future exploration.
While SpaceX is credited with launching the world’s first reusable rocket, NASA made history with the launch of the world’s first reusable spacecraft decades before.
Spanning 30 years, NASA’s Space Shuttle program was revolutionary. No one had ever seen anything like the shuttle orbiters. The shuttle lifted off into space like a rocket, but it landed like a plane. They appeared to have flown straight out of a science fiction movie.
This large aircraft-like space vehicle could accommodate much larger crew sizes than the spacecraft that came before. Whereas Apollo could launch a crew of three, the shuttle could launch eight (although seven crew members seemed to be the average).
Since it was a much bigger spacecraft, the shuttle could also launch heavier and larger payloads into space, like International Space Station (ISS) modules and the Hubble Space Telescope! In fact, the shuttle was used to construct and sustain the ISS, carrying spare parts and supplies to the orbital laboratory over the years.
In total, NASA constructed five shuttle orbiters for spaceflight: Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. A sixth prototype shuttle orbiter, Enterprise, was used in glide tests in 1977, prior to the launch of the first shuttle mission (STS-1) on April 12, 1981.
Though the shuttle had many triumphs, the program also suffered tragedies. In 1986, Challenger was lost during launch, and, in 2003, Columbia was lost during reentry. Both crews lost their lives.
The final shuttle flight (STS-135) launched on July 8, 2011. Atlantis landed 13 days later, safely returning the crew of STS-135 home in a final farewell to NASA’s historic Space Shuttle Program.
The remaining shuttles were retired to museums around the country following the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011. Atlantis was moved to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Discovery was placed in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Virginia, and Endeavour is on display at the California Science Center.
Enterprise, which never flew in space, can be viewed at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City and the shuttle replica Independence can be seen at Space Center Houston in Independence Plaza during your next visit.
NASA’s five shuttle orbiters didn’t just leave their mark in history, they left a lasting impression upon the hearts and minds of people all across the globe, and paved the way for the future of human space exploration.
Click here to learn more about NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.