Space shuttle is a spacecraft which is used to transport people or cargo around the globe or out of earth’s atmosphere. In 1970’s NASA developed a reusable rocket that could accomplish many missions. The very first shuttle orbiter was Columbia, which was launched from Kennedy Space Centre on April 12, 1981.
As of now 3 space shuttles are in use:
• Columbia was launched in 1981, but it was lost and not yet replaced.
• Discovery was launched in 1983.
• Atlantis was launched in 1985.
• Endeavour was launched in 1991, which has replaced Challenger.
NASA began designing space shuttle from 1968, before the landing of Apollo on moon in 1969. President Nixon in 1969 formed a space operations group which would research and design space shuttles. Earlier, there were many debates regarding the design, operational cost, development cost and balancing capabilities of the space shuttle; but later, the argument settled with the present design of the space shuttle which has external tank which was expandable. It also planned a rocket booster and reusable orbiter which would have reusable wings. The final selected design was less expensive and technically less ambitious as compared to other designs, which were completely reusable. After President Richard M. Nixon’s announcement of the NASA’s space shuttle program, the official launch of the program of space shuttle was on January 5, 1972.
The leading contractor for this space shuttle program was Rockwell International (Formerly known as North American Aviation), which was also the contractor to carry out Apollo Service and Command Module. Alliant Techsystems (Formerly known as Morton Thiokol) was the contractor for Solid Rocket Boosters of the space shuttle. Rocketdyne was the contractor for the main engine of the space shuttle and Lockheed Martin (formerly known as Martin Marietta) was the contractor for the external tanks of the space shuttle.
Constitution was the name of the first Orbiter, but it was changed to Enterprise, since there were many campaigns and letters from Star Trek fans (a popular television series) to White House to change the name. Enterprise ran series of successful landing and gliding tests after September 17, 1976; when the validation of actual design was passed.
The first operational shuttle orbiter was built in Columbia at Palmdale, which was delivered on March 25, 1979 to Kennedy Space Center. It was launched on Yuri Gagarin’s 20th anniversary that is on April 12, 1981. Endeavour replaced Challenger, as Challenger crashed along with 7 astronauts on January 28, 1986. Endeavour was developed by the spare parts of other projected orbiters, which was yet to be launched. It was delivered on 1991 but it was officially launched in the next year. On February 1, 2003, Columbia was lost with 7 crew members, and Columbia has still not replaced.