There has not been a NASA space shuttle named Odyssey that has ever crashed. Challenger and Columbia have crashed.
Space Shuttle Discovery
(Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-103
) is one of the retired orbiters of the Space Shuttle program of NASA, the space agency of the United States, and was operational from its maiden flight, STS-41-D on August 30, 1984, until its final landing during STS-133 on March 9, 2011. Discovery
has flown more than any other spacecraft having completed 39 successful missions in over 27 years of service.
In 1984, Discovery
became the third operational orbiter following Columbia
, and made its final touchdown at Kennedy Space Center on March 9, 2011 at 10:57:17 CST, having spent a cumulative total of almost a full year in space. Discovery
has performed both research and International Space Station (ISS) assembly missions. Discovery
also flew the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. Discovery
was the first operational shuttle to be retired, followed by Endeavour
and then Atlantis
The spacecraft takes its name from four British ships of exploration named Discovery
, primarily Discovery
HMS , one of the ships commanded by Captain James Cook during his third and final major voyage from 1776 to 1779.
was the shuttle that launched the Hubble Space Telescope. The second and third Hubble service missions were also conducted by Discovery
. It has also launched the Ulysses probe and three TDRS satellites. Discovery
had been twice chosen as the "Return To Flight" Orbiter, first in 1988 after the disasterChallenger
1986 , and then for the twin "Return To Flight" missions in July 2005 and July 2006 after the disasterColumbia
2003 . Discovery
also carried Project Mercury astronaut John Glenn, who was 77 at the time, back into space during STS-95 on October 29, 1998, making him the oldest person to go into space.
Had the planned STS-62-A mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in 1986 for the United States Department of Defense gone ahead, Discovery
would have flown it. Its final mission, STS-133, landed on March 9, 2011, in Kennedy Space Center, Florida. After decommissioning and delivery, the spacecraft is displayed in Virginia at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.
weighed some 6,870 pounds (3,120 kg) less than Columbia
when it was brought into service due to optimizations determined during the construction and testing of Enterprise
. Part of these weight optimizations included the greater use of quilted AFRSI blankets as opposed to the white-colored LRSI tiles on the fuselage, and the use of graphite epoxy instead of aluminum for the payload bay doors and some of the wing spars and beams.
Upon its delivery to the Kennedy Space Center in 1983, Discovery
was promptly modified alongside Challenger
to accommodate the liquid-fueled Centaur-G booster, which had been planned for use beginning in 1986 but was cancelled in the wake of the Challenger
Beginning in late 1995, the orbiter underwent a nine-month Orbiter Maintenance Down Period (OMDP) in Palmdale, California. This included outfitting the vehicle with a 5th set of cryogenic tanks and an external airlock to support missions to the International Space Station. As with all the orbiters, it could be attached to the top of specialized aircraft and did so in June 1996 when it returned to the Kennedy Space Center, and later in April 2012 when sent to the Udvar-Hazy Center, riding piggy-back on a modified Boeing 747.
After STS-105, Discovery
became the first of the orbiter fleet to undergo Orbiter Major Modification (OMM) period at the Kennedy Space Center. Work began in September 2002 to prepare the vehicle for Return to Flight. This included scheduled upgrades and additional safety modifications. Discovery
is 6 pounds (2.7 kg) heavier than Atlantis
and 363 pounds (165 kg) heavier than Endeavour
was decommissioned on March 9, 2011.
NASA offered Discovery
to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum for public display and preservation, after a month-long decontamination process, as part of the national collection. Discovery
in the Smithsonian's display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. Discovery was transported to Washington Dulles International Airport on April 17, 2012, and was transferred to the Udvar-Hazy on April 19 where a formal welcome ceremony was held. Afterwards, at around 5: 30 pm, Discovery was rolled to its "final wheels stop" in the Udvar Hazy Center.
By its last mission, Discovery
had flown 149 million miles (238 million km) in 39 missions, completed 5,830 orbits, and spent 365 days in orbit in over 27 years. Discovery
is the Orbiter Fleet leader, having flown more flights than any other Orbiter Shuttle in the fleet, including four in 1985 alone. Discovery
flew all three "return to flight" missions after the Challenger
disasters: STS-26 in 1988, STS-114 in 2005, and STS-121 in 2006. Discovery
flew the ante-penultimate mission of the Space Shuttle program, STS-133, having launched on (NET) February 24, 2011. Endeavour
flew STS-134 and Atlantis
performed STS-135, NASA's last Space Shuttle mission. On February 24, 2011, Space Shuttle Discovery
launched from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39-A to begin its final orbital flight.
‡ Longest shuttle mission for Discovery
– shortest shuttle mission for Discovery
This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Crew members John W. Young (left) and Robert L. Crippen pose in ejection escape suits (EES) with a small model of the Space Shuttle orbiter.
was the first orbital flight of NASA's Space Shuttle program. The first orbiter, Columbia
Space Shuttle , launched on 12 April 1981 and returned to Earth on 14 April, having orbited the Earth 37 times during its 54.5-hour mission. Columbia
carried a crew of two – mission commander John W. Young and pilot Robert L. Crippen. It was the first American manned space flight since the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project on 15 July 1975. STS-1 was also the only US manned maiden test flight of a new spacecraft system, although it was the culmination of atmospheric testing of the Space Shuttle orbiter.
Both Young and Crippen were selected as the STS-1 crew in March 1978. Young was the most experienced astronaut in NASA at the time and was also the only member of his astronaut class still serving. He had first flown in 1965 as pilot of Gemini 3, the first manned flight of the Gemini program, and would later command Gemini 10 in 1966. After the conclusion of the Gemini program, Young then flew as command module pilot of Apollo 10 in 1969 and walked on the Moon as commander of Apollo 16 in 1972. He later became Chief of the Astronaut Office in 1974. Crippen, who had joined NASA in 1969 after the cancellation of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, was a rookie and would become the first of his astronaut group to fly in space. Prior to his selection on STS-1, Crippen participated in the Skylab Medical Experiment Altitude Test and also served as a capsule communicator for all three Skylab missions and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.
was manifested with EMUs for both Young and Crippen in the event of an emergency spacewalk. If such an event occurred, Crippen would go outside the orbiter, with Young standing by in case Crippen required assistance.
The first launch of the Space Shuttle occurred on 12 April 1981, exactly 20 years after the first manned space flight, when the orbiter Columbia
, with two crew members, astronauts John W. Young, commander, and Robert L. Crippen, pilot, lifted off from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, at the Kennedy Space Center. This was the first of 24 launches from Pad A. The launch took place at precisely A launch attempt two days earlier was scrubbed because of a timing problem in one of Columbia
’s general-purpose computers.
Not only was this the first launch of the Space Shuttle, but it marked the first time that solid-fuel rockets were used for a NASA manned launch (although all of the Mercury and Apollo astronauts had relied on a solid-fuel motor in their escape towers). STS-1 was also the first U.S. manned space vehicle launched without an unmanned powered test flight. The STS-1 orbiter, Columbia
, also holds the record for the amount of time spent in the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) before launch – 610 days, the time needed for the replacement of many of its heat shield tiles.
The primary mission objectives of the maiden flight were to perform a general check out of the Space Shuttle system, accomplish a safe ascent into orbit and to return to Earth for a safe landing. The only payload carried on the mission was a Development Flight Instrumentation (DFI) package, which contained sensors and measuring devices to record the orbiter's performance and the stresses that occurred during launch, ascent, orbital flight, descent and landing. All of these objectives were met successfully, and the orbiter's spaceworthiness was verified.
During flight day 2, the astronauts received a phone call from Vice President George H. W. Bush. President Ronald Reagan had originally intended to visit the Mission Control Center during the mission, but at the time was still recovering from an assassination attempt which had taken place two weeks before the launch.
reached an orbital altitude of 166 nautical miles (307 km). The 37-orbit, 1,074,567-mile (1,729,348 km)-long flight lasted 2 days, 6 hours, 20 minutes and 53 seconds. Landing occurred on Runway 23 at Edwards Air Force Base, California, at . Columbia
was returned to Kennedy Space Center from California on 28 April atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.
STS-1 was the first test-flight of what was, at the time, the most complex spacecraft ever built. Numerous anomalies were observed during and after the flight, owing to the many components and systems that could not otherwise be adequately tested. Notable anomalies included:
Despite these problems, the STS-1 mission was completed successfully, and in most respects Columbia
performed optimally. After some modifications to the shuttle and to the launch and re-entry procedures, Columbia
would fly the next four Shuttle missions.
The artwork for the official mission insignia was designed by artist Robert McCall. It is a symbolic representation of the shuttle. The image does not depict the black wing roots present on the actual shuttle.
The ultimate launch date of STS-1 fell on the 20th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's Vostok 1, the first manned spaceflight. In 2001, Yuri's Night was established to celebrate both events. In a tribute to the 25th anniversary of the first flight of Space Shuttle, Firing Room 1 in the Launch Control Center at Kennedy Space Center – which launched STS-1 – was renamed the Young-Crippen Firing Room. NASA described the mission as "the boldest test flight in history".
STS-1 was one of only two shuttle flights to have its External Tank (ET) painted white. To reduce the shuttle's overall weight, all flights from STS-3 onward used an unpainted tank. The use of an unpainted tank provided a weight saving of approximately 272 kilograms (600 lb), and gave the ET the distinctive orange color which later became associated with the Space Shuttle.
The song "Countdown", by Rush, from the 1982 album Signals
, was written about STS-1 and the inaugural flight of Columbia
. The song was "dedicated with thanks to astronauts Young and Crippen and all the people of NASA for their inspiration and cooperation".
IMAX cameras filmed the launch, landing, and mission control during the flight, for a film entitled Hail Columbia!
, which debuted in 1982 and later became available on DVD. The title of the film comes from the pre-1930s unofficial American national anthem, Hail, Columbia
NASA began a tradition of playing music to astronauts during the Gemini program, and first used music to wake up a flight crew during Apollo 15. A special musical track is chosen for each day in space, often by the astronauts' families, to have a special meaning to an individual member of the crew, or in reference to the day's planned activities.
's arrival at Complex 39A, 29 December 1980.
Arrival at Complex 39A.
at Launch Pad A, Complex 39, 12 April 1981.
Commander John Young (right) and Pilot Robert Crippen (left) suit up for launch, 12 April 1981.
The launch of STS-1.
lifts off at the beginning of STS-1.
's cargo bay and aft section, 12 April 1981.
landing on Rogers dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base, 14 April 1981.
after its successful landing.
An overall view of the mission operations control room during Columbia
's landing phase.
, mated to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, arrives at Kennedy Space Center after STS-1 to be prepared for its next mission.
This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) are two extensively modified Boeing 747 airliners that NASA used to transport Space Shuttle orbiters. One is a 747-100 model, while the other is a short range 747-100SR.
The SCAs were used to ferry Space Shuttles from landing sites back to the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, and to and from other locations too distant for the orbiters to be delivered by ground transport. The orbiters were placed on top of the SCAs by Mate-Demate Devices, large gantry-like structures that hoisted the orbiters off the ground for post-flight servicing then mated them with the SCAs for ferry flights.
In approach and landing test flights conducted in 1977, the test shuttle Enterprise was released from an SCA during flight and glided to a landing under its own control.
The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy was considered for the shuttle-carrier role by NASA, but rejected in favor of the 747—in part due to the 747's low-wing design in comparison to the C-5's high-wing design, and also because the U.S. Air Force would have retained ownership of the C-5, while NASA could own the 747s outright.
The first aircraft, a Boeing 747-100 registered N905NA, was originally manufactured for American Airlines and still carried visible American side stripes while testing Enterprise in the 1970s. It was acquired in 1974 and initially used for trailing wake vortex research as part of a broader study by NASA Dryden, as well as Shuttle tests involving an F-104 flying in close formation and simulating a "release" from the 747. The aircraft appears in the background of a scene from The Six Million Dollar Man's second season episode "The Deadly Replay", which was filmed in 1974 at Edwards AFB.
The aircraft was extensively modified by Boeing in 1976. While first-class seats were kept for NASA passengers, its main cabin and insulation were stripped, mounting struts added, and the fuselage strengthened. Vertical stabilizers were added to the tail to aid stability when the Orbiter was being carried. The avionics and engines were also upgraded, and an escape tunnel system similar to that used on Boeing's first 747 test flights was added. The flight crew escape tunnel system was later removed following the completion of the Approach and Landing Tests (ALT) due to concerns over possible engine ingestion of an escaping crew member.
Flying with the additional drag and weight of the Orbiter imposed significant fuel and altitude penalties. The range was reduced to 1,000 nautical miles (1,850 km), compared to an unladen range of 5500 nautical miles (10,100 km), requiring an SCA to stop several times to refuel on a transcontinental flight. Without the Orbiter, the SCA needed to carry ballast to balance out its center of gravity. The SCA had an altitude ceiling of 15,000 feet and a maximum cruise speed of Mach 0.6 with the orbiter attached. A crew of 170 took a week to prepare the shuttle and SCA for flight.
Studies were conducted to equip the SCA with aerial refueling equipment, a modification already made to the U.S. Air Force E-4 (modified 747-200s) and 747 tanker transports for the IIAF. However, during formation flying with a tanker aircraft to test refueling approaches, minor cracks were spotted on the tailfin of N905NA. While these were not likely to have been caused by the test flights, it was felt that there was no sense taking unnecessary risks. Since there was no urgent need to provide an aerial refueling capacity, the tests were suspended.
By 1983, SCA N905NA no longer bore the distinct American Airlines red, white, and blue cheatline. NASA replaced it with its own livery, consisting of a white fuselage and a single blue cheatline. That year, this aircraft was also used to fly Enterprise on a tour in Europe, with refuelling stops in Goose Bay, Canada; Keflavik, Iceland; England; and West Germany. It then went to the Paris Air Show.
In 1988, in the wake of the accidentChallenger, NASA procured a surplus 747-100SR from Japan Airlines. Registered N911NA it entered service with NASA in 1990 after undergoing modifications similar to N905NA. It was first used in 1991 to ferry the new shuttle Endeavour from the manufacturers in Palmdale, California to Kennedy Space Center.
Based at the Dryden Flight Research Center within Edwards Air Force Base in California the two aircraft were functionally identical, although N911NA has five upper-deck windows on each side, while N905NA has only two. The rear mounting points on both aircraft were labeled with humorous instructions to "Attach Orbiter Here" or "Place Orbiter Here", clarified by the precautionary note "Black Side Down".
Shuttle Carriers were capable of operating from alternative shuttle landing sites such as those in the United Kingdom, Spain, and France. Due to the reduced range of the Shuttle Carrier while mated to an orbiter, additional preparations such as removal of the payload from the orbiter may have been necessary to reduce its weight.
Boeing transported its Phantom Ray unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) demonstrator from St. Louis, Missouri, to Edwards on a Shuttle Carrier on December 11, 2010.
Shuttle Carrier N911NA retired on February 8, 2012 after its final mission to the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, California, and will be used as a source of parts for NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
Shuttle Carrier N905NA was used to ferry the retired Shuttles to their respective museums. It returned to the Dryden Flight Research Facility at Edwards Air Force Base in California after a short flight from Los Angeles International Airport on September 24, 2012. It will soon join N911NA as a source of spare parts for NASA's SOFIA aircraft. NASA engineers surveyed N905NA and determined that it had few parts usable for SOFIA, and 905 is now intended to be preserved and displayed in Houston. Three former NASA aircraft are on static display in the Houston area - two T-38s at the front entrance of Space Center Houston, and the former NASA KC-135 930 Vomit Comet. On May 3, 2013, the Space Center announced plans to display SCA 905 with the mockup shuttle Explorer mounted on its back.
Data from Boeing 747-100 specifications Jenkins 2000
Ferry flights generally originated at Edwards Air Force Base in California or on one occasion White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico following mission STS-3 which landed there, especially in the early days of the Space Shuttle program or when weather at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at the Kennedy Space Center prevented ending missions there. Flights generally ended at the SLF. A number of flights began at the Dryden Flight Research Center following delivery of the orbiter from Rockwell International to NASA from the nearby facilities in Palmdale, California.
The last ferry flight with Endeavour started on September 19, 2012 with flight from Kennedy Space Center to Ellington Field. The second leg on September 20, 2012 Ellington Field to Edwards Air Force Base. The third and final leg was flown on September 21, 2012 when it departed Edwards Air Force Base and headed north along the California central valley, conducted a circuit over Sacramento, and then proceeded to the San Francisco Bay Area. In the Bay Area, the flight proceeded along the east side of the bay, passing over Oakland, Berkeley, El Cerrito, and Richmond before crossing the bay and conducting two loops over San Francisco, passing over the Golden Gate Bridge each time. The flight then proceeded south along the west side of the bay, conducting a low fly-over at NASA Ames Research Center/Moffett Air Field before turning south, along the way making a pass over Vandenberg Air Force Base, which was once slated to be a launch site for the Space Shuttle program. As it approached the Los Angeles area, the SCA/Endeavour conducted flyovers of various landmarks in the greater LA region, including the Hollywood Sign and the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles as well as the Rose Bowl and the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena. As it approached from the south along the Pacific coast, it also passed over several communities, provided sighting opportunities for thousands of spectators.
Discovery was delivered to the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. on April 19, 2012. On April 17, 2012, Discovery was flown atop a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft escorted by a NASA T-38 Talon chase aircraft in a final farewell flight. The 747 and Discovery flew over Washington, D.C. and the metropolitan area around 10 am and arrived at Dulles around 11 am. The flyover and landing were widely covered on national news media.
Shuttle Carrier Aircraft carries Discovery from Edwards AFB to Kennedy Space Center, Florida
One of the SCAs at its Dryden Flight Research Center home, with a very wet Rogers Dry Lake behind it.
Aft end of the SCA interior. Note the large stuffed spider mounted on the aft pressure bulkhead.
The first class section in the nose of N905NA. This is the only area on the main deck that has not been stripped to the bare metal
Atlantis on a Shuttle Carrier returning to Kennedy Space Center in 1998.
SCA approaching Endeavour suspended in the Mate-Demate Device (MDD), April, 1994
SCA mating with Endeavour in the Mate-Demate Device (MDD), April, 1994
SCA ferry flights, 1992
Takeoff of SCA N905NA carrying Enterprise. Note the American Airlines pinstriping.
Enterprise separating from N905NA.
Discovery transported to Washington, D.C. April 2012
Enterprise being transported to New York City, April 2012
Planform view of SCA carrying Enterprise, April 2012
The Space Shuttle Atlantis (Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV‑104) was a Space Shuttle orbiter in the Space Shuttle fleet belonging to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the spaceflight and space exploration agency of the United States. Atlantis was the fourth operational (and the next-to-the-last) Space Shuttle to be constructed by the Rockwell International company in Southern California, and it was delivered to the John F. Kennedy Space Center in eastern Florida in April 1985. Atlantis was the only orbiter which lacked the ability to draw power from the International Space Station while docked there; it had to continue to provide its own power through fuel cells.
The last mission of Atlantis was STS-135, the last flight of the Shuttle program. This final flight, authorized in October 2010, brought additional supplies to the International Space Station and took advantage of the processing performed for the Launch on Need mission, which would only have been flown in the event that Endeavour's STS-134 crew required rescue. Atlantis launched successfully for the final time on 8 July 2011 at 16:29 UTC, landing at the John F. Kennedy Space Center on 21 July 2011 at 09:57 UTC.
By the end of its final mission, Atlantis had orbited the Earth 4,848 times, traveling nearly 126,000,000 mi (203,000,000 km) in space or more than 525 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.
Atlantis was named after AtlantisRV , a two-masted sailing ship that operated as the primary research vessel for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution from 1930 to 1966.
Space Shuttle Atlantis lifted off on its maiden voyage on 3 October 1985, on mission STS-51-J, the second dedicated Department of Defense flight. It flew one other mission, STS-61-B, the second night launch in the shuttle program, before the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster temporarily grounded the shuttle fleet in 1986. Among the five Space Shuttles flown into space, Atlantis conducted a subsequent mission in the shortest time after the previous mission (turnaround time) when it launched in November 1985 on STS-61-B, only 50 days after its previous mission, STS-51-J in October 1985. Atlantis was then used for ten flights between 1988 and 1992. Two of these, both flown in 1989, deployed the planetary probes Magellan to Venus (on STS-30) and Galileo to Jupiter (on STS-34). With STS-30 Atlantis became the first shuttle to launch an interplanetary probe. During another mission, STS-37 flown in 1991, Atlantis deployed the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. Beginning in 1995 with STS-71, Atlantis made seven straight flights to the former Russian space station Mir as part of the Shuttle-Mir Program. STS-71 marked a number of firsts in human spaceflight: 100th U.S. manned space flight; first U.S. shuttle-Russian Space Station Mir docking and joint on-orbit operations; and first on-orbit changeout of shuttle crew. When linked, Atlantis and Mir together formed the largest spacecraft in orbit at the time.
Shuttle Atlantis also delivered several vital components for the construction of the International Space Station (ISS). During the February 2001 mission STS-98 to the ISS, Atlantis delivered the Destiny Module, the primary operating facility for U.S. research payloads aboard the ISS. The five hour 25 minute third spacewalk performed by astronauts Robert Curbeam and Thomas Jones during STS-98 marked NASA's 100th extra vehicular activity in space. The Quest Joint Airlock, was flown and installed to the ISS by Atlantis during the mission STS-104 in July 2001. The successful installation of the airlock gave on-board space station crews the ability to stage repair and maintenance spacewalks outside the ISS using U.S. EMU or Russian Orlan space suits. The first mission flown by Atlantis after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster was STS-115, conducted during September 2006. The mission carried the P3/P4 truss segments and solar arrays to the ISS. On ISS assembly flight STS-122 in February 2008, Atlantis delivered the Columbus laboratory to the ISS. Columbus laboratory is the largest single contribution to the ISS made by the European Space Agency (ESA).
In May 2009 Atlantis flew a seven member crew to the Hubble Space Telescope for its Servicing Mission 4, STS-125. The mission was a success, with the crew completing five space walks totaling 37 hours to install new cameras, batteries, a gyroscope and other components to the telescope.
The longest mission flown using Atlantis was STS-117 and lasted almost 14 days in June 2007. During STS-117, Atlantis' crew added a new starboard truss segment and solar array pair (the S3/S4 truss), folded the P6 array in preparation for its relocation and performed four spacewalks. Atlantis was not equipped to take advantage of the Station-to-Shuttle Power Transfer System so missions could not be extended by making use of power provided by ISS.
During the STS-129 post-flight interview on 16 November 2009 shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach said that Atlantis officially beat shuttle Discovery on the record low amount of Interim Problem Reports, with a total of just 54 listed since returning from the STS-125. He continued to add "It is due to the team and the hardware processing. They just did a great job. The record will probably never be broken again in the history of the Space Shuttle Program, so congratulations to them". However, during the STS-132 post-launch interview on 14 May 2010, shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach said that Atlantis beat its previous record low amount of Interim Problem Reports, with a total of 46 listed between STS-129 and STS-132.
Atlantis went through two overhauls of scheduled Orbiter Maintenance Down Periods (OMDPs) during its operational history.
Atlantis arrived at Palmdale, California in October 1992 for OMDP-1. During that visit 165 modifications were made over the next 20 months. These included the installation of a drag chute, new plumbing lines to configure the orbiter for extended duration, more than 800 new heat tiles and blankets and new insulation for main landing gear and structural modifications to the airframe.
On 5 November 1997, Atlantis again arrived at Palmdale for OMDP-2 which was completed on 24 September 1998. The 130 modifications carried out during OMDP-2 included glass cockpit displays, replacement of TACAN navigation with GPS and ISS airlock and docking installation. Several weight reduction modifications were also performed on the orbiter including replacement of Advanced Flexible Reusable Surface Insulation (AFRSI) insulation blankets on upper surfaces with FRSI. Moreover lightweight crew seats were installed and the Extended Duration Orbiter (EDO) package installed on OMDP-1 was removed to lighten Atlantis to better serve its prime mission of servicing the ISS.
During the stand down period post Columbia accident, Atlantis went through over 75 modifications to the orbiter ranging from very minor bolt change-outs to window change-outs and different fluid systems.
Atlantis was known among the shuttle workforce as being more prone than the others in the fleet to problems that needed to be addressed while readying the vehicle for launch leading to some nicknaming her "Britney".
NASA had planned to withdraw Atlantis from service in 2008, as the orbiter would have been due to undergo its third scheduled OMDP. However, because of the final retirement of the shuttle fleet in 2010, this was deemed uneconomical. It was planned that Atlantis would be kept in near flight condition to be used as a parts hulk for Discovery and Endeavour. However, with the significant planned flight schedule up to 2010, the decision was taken to extend the time between OMDPs, allowing Atlantis to be retained for operations. Atlantis has been swapped for one flight of each Discovery and Endeavour in the current flight manifest. Atlantis had completed what was meant to be its last flight, STS-132, prior to the end of the shuttle program, but the extension of the Shuttle program into 2011 led to Atlantis being the STS-135, the final Space Shuttle mission in July 2011.
Now that Atlantis is finally decommissioned, it is displayed at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced the decision at an employee event held on 12 April 2011 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle flight: "First, here at the Kennedy Space Center where every shuttle mission and so many other historic human space flights have originated, we'll showcase my old friend, Atlantis."
The Visitor Complex displays the Atlantis suspended with cargo bay doors opened such that it appears to be back in orbit around the Earth. A multi-story digital projection of the home planet rotates behind the orbiter in a 64,000-square-foot (5,900 m2) indoor facility. Ground breaking of the facility occurred in 2012. The exhibit opened on June 29, 2013.
A total of 156 individuals flew with Space Shuttle Atlantis over the course of its 33 missions. Because the shuttle sometimes flew crew members arriving and departing Mir and the ISS, not all of them launched and landed on Atlantis.
Astronaut Clayton Anderson, ESA astronaut Leopold Eyharts and Russian cosmonauts Nikolai Budarin and Anatoly Solovyev only launched on Atlantis. Similarly, astronauts Daniel Tani and Sunita Williams, as well as cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Gennady Strekalov only landed with Atlantis. Only 146 men and women both launched and landed aboard Atlantis.][
Some of those people however, flew with Atlantis more than once. Taking them into account, 203 total seats were filled over Atlantis 32 missions. Astronaut Jerry Ross holds the record for the most flights aboard Atlantis at five.
Astronaut Rodolfo Neri Vela who flew aboard Atlantis on STS-61-B mission in 1985 became the first and so far only Mexican to have traveled to space. ESA astronaut Dirk Frimout who flew on STS-45 as a payload specialist was the first Belgian in space. STS-46 mission specialist Claude Nicollier was the first astronaut from Switzerland. On the same flight, astronaut Franco Malerba became the first citizen of Italy to travel to space.
Astronaut Michael Massimino who flew on STS-125 mission became the first person to use Twitter in space in May 2009.
Having flown aboard Atlantis as part of the STS-132 crew in May 2010 and Discovery as part of the STS-133 crew in February/March 2011, Stephen Bowen became the first NASA astronaut to be launched on consecutive missions.
NASA announced in 2007 that 24 helium and nitrogen gas tanks in Atlantis were older than their designed lifetime. These composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPV) were designed for a 10 year life and later cleared for an additional 10 years; they exceeded this life in 2005. NASA said it cannot guarantee any longer that the vessels on Atlantis will not burst or explode under full pressure. Failure of these tanks could damage parts of the shuttle and even wound or kill ground personnel. An in-flight failure of a pressure vessel could even result in the loss of the orbiter and its crew. NASA analyses originally assumed that the vessels would leak before they burst, but new tests showed that they could in fact burst before leaking.
Because the original vendor was no longer in business, and a new manufacturer could not be qualified before 2010, when the shuttles were scheduled to be retired, NASA decided to continue operations with the existing tanks. Therefore, to reduce the risk of failure and the cumulative effects of load, the vessels will be maintained at 80 percent of the operating pressure as late in the launch countdown as possible, and the launch pad will be cleared of all but essential personnel when pressure is increased to 100 percent. The new launch procedure will be employed during the remaining Atlantis launches if no other resolution is found. Atlantis will have to fly at least once under this requirement.
However, since the problem was discovered, the two COPV's deemed to have the highest risk of failure have been replaced.
After the STS-125 mission, a work light knob was discovered jammed in the space between one of Atlantiss front interior windows and the Orbiter dashboard structure. The knob was believed to have entered the space during flight, when the pressurized Orbiter was expanded to its maximum size. Then, once back on Earth, the Orbiter contracted, jamming the knob in place. Leaving "as-is" was considered unsafe for flight, and some options for removal (including window replacement) would have included a 6 month delay of Atlantiss next mission (planned to be STS-129). Had the removal of the knob been unsuccessful, the worst-case scenario is that Atlantis could have been retired from the fleet, leaving Discovery and Endeavour to complete the manifest alone. On 29 June 2009, Atlantis was pressurised to 17 psi (120 kPa) (3psi-delta), which forced the Orbiter to expand slightly. The knob was then frozen with dry ice, and was successfully removed. Small areas of damage to the window were discovered where the edges of the knob had been embedded into the pane. Subsequent investigation of the window damage discovered a maximum defect depth of approximately 0.0003 in (7.6 µm), less than the reportable depth threshold of 0.0015 in (38 µm) and not serious enough to warrant the pane’s replacement.
Atlantis was the shuttle shown in the 1986 film SpaceCamp, starring Kate Capshaw, Lea Thompson, Tom Skerrit and Joaquin Phoenix. The premise of the film was a crew of students at United States Space Camp that are accidentally launched into space on-board Atlantis. Atlantis was also featured in the 1998 film Deep Impact as the spacecraft used to shuttle the crew to the fictional Messiah spacecraft. It is also featured in Armageddon, a film with a similar plot, in which the shuttle is destroyed in a rogue meteor shower.
'Spaceplane Sailing', a short film about the career of Atlantis that was set to the Swedish song 'La voix' from the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, premiered on YouTube in February 2013.
Atlantis also holds the dubious distinction of being the only shuttle to have porngraphy drawn of it.
Space Shuttle Challenger
(NASA Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-099
) was NASA's second Space Shuttle orbiter to be put into service, Columbia
having been the first. The shuttle was built by Rockwell International's Space Transportation Systems Division in Downey, California. Its maiden flight was on April 4, 1983, and it completed nine missions before breaking apart 73 seconds after the launch of its tenth mission, STS-51-L on January 28, 1986, resulting in the death of all seven crew members. It was the first of two shuttles (the other being Columbia
) to be destroyed. The accident led to a two-and-a-half year grounding of the shuttle fleet, with missions resuming in 1988 with the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery
on STS-26. Challenger
itself was replaced by the Space Shuttle Endeavour
, which first launched in May 1992 and was constructed from structural spares that had been ordered by NASA as part of the construction contracts for Discovery
was named after Challenger
HMS , a British corvette that was the command ship for the Challenger Expedition, a pioneering global marine research expedition undertaken from 1872 through 1876. The Apollo 17 lunar module that landed on the Moon in 1972 was also named Challenger
Because of the low production of orbiters, the Space Shuttle program decided to build a vehicle as a Structural Test Article, STA-099, that could later be converted to a flight vehicle. The contract for STA-099 was awarded to North American Rockwell on July 26, 1972, and its construction was completed in February 1978. After STA-099's rollout, it was promptly sent to a Lockheed test site in Palmdale, where it would spend over 11 months in vibration tests designed to simulate entire shuttle flights, from launch to landing. In order to prevent damage during structural testing, qualification tests were performed to a factor of safety of 1.2 times the design limit loads. The qualification tests were used to validate computational models, and compliance with the required 1.4 factor of safety was shown by analysis. STA-099 was essentially a complete airframe of a Space Shuttle orbiter, with only a mockup crew module installed and thermal insulation placed on its forward fuselage.
NASA planned to refit the prototype orbiter Enterprise
(OV-101), used for flight testing, as the second operational orbiter. However, design changes made during construction of the first orbiter, Columbia
(OV-102), would have required extensive rework. Because STA-099's qualification testing prevented damage, NASA found that rebuilding STA-099 as OV-099 would be less expensive than refitting Enterprise.
Work on converting STA-099 into Challenger
began in January 1979, starting with just the crew module (the pressurized portion of the vehicle) as the rest of the orbiter was still used by Lockheed. STA-099 returned to the Rockwell plant in November 1979, and the original unfinished crew module was replaced with the newly-constructed model. Work continued on the conversion until 1982.
(and the orbiters built after it) had fewer tiles in its Thermal Protection System than Columbia, though it still made heavy use of the white-colored LRSI tiles on the cabin and main fuselage compared to the later orbiters. Most of the tiles on the payload bay doors, upper wing surfaces, and rear fuselage surfaces were replaced with DuPont white Nomex felt insulation. These modifications as well as an overall lighter structure allowed Challenger
to carry 2,500 lb (1,100 kg) more payload than Columbia. Challenger's
fuselage and wings were also stronger than Columbia's
despite being lighter. The hatch and vertical stabilizer tile patterns were also different from that of the other orbiters. Challenger
was also the first orbiter to have a head-up display system for use in the descent phase of a mission, and the first to feature Phase I main engines rated for 104% maximum thrust.
After its first flight in April 1983, Challenger
quickly became the workhorse of NASA's Space Shuttle fleet, flying far more missions per year than Columbia.
In 1983 and 1984, Challenger
flew on 85% of all Space Shuttle missions. Even when the orbiters Discovery
joined the fleet, Challenger
remained in heavy use with three missions a year from 1983 to 1985. Challenger,
along with Discovery,
was modified at Kennedy Space Center to be able to carry the Centaur-G upper stage in its payload bay. If flight STS-51-L had been successful, Challenger'
s next mission would have been the deployment of the Ulysses probe with the Centaur to study the polar regions of the Sun.
s many spaceflight accomplishments included the first American woman, African-American, and Canadian in space; three Spacelab missions; and the first night launch and night landing of a Space Shuttle. Challenger
was also the first space shuttle to be destroyed in an accident during a mission. The collected debris of the vessel are currently buried in decommissioned missile silos at Launch Complex 31, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. From time to time, further pieces of debris from the orbiter wash up on the Florida coast. When this happens, they are collected and transported to the silos for storage. Because of its early loss, Challenger
was the only space shuttle that never wore the NASA "meatball" logo, and also was never modified with the MEDS "glass cockpit". The tail was also never fitted with a drag chute – it was fitted to the remaining orbiters in 1992.
First spacewalk during a space shuttle mission.
Deployed two communications satellites.
First shuttle night launch and night landing.
Carried 260,000 envelopes stamped to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of NASA.
Deployed WESTAR and Palapa B-2 communications satellites unsuccessfully (both were retrieved during STS-51-A).
Marc Garneau becomes first Canadian in space.
Kathryn Sullivan becomes first American woman to make a spacewalk.
Deployed Earth Radiation Budget Satellite.
Wubbo Ockels becomes the first Dutchman in space
was destroyed at 11:39:13 am Eastern Standard Time on January 28, 1986. It broke up mid-flight in the second minute of its tenth mission. The cause was ultimately found to be the failure of an O-ring seal on the right solid-fuel rocket booster (SRB). Its failure was due to a variety of factors, including unusually low temperatures prior to lift off.
As the shuttle began its ascent, a plume of flame began escaping through the booster rocket's faulty seal. This started to heat the shuttle's external fuel tank and the SRB's aft attachment strut. Eventually this process caused a catastrophic structural failure that led to the rapid explosive release of hydrogen and oxygen from the fuel tanks. This ruptured Challenger'
s reaction control system resulting in the burning of its hypergolic propellants. This placed extreme aerodynamic load on the Orbiter because it was traveling at about Mach 1.92. As the structural integrity began to fail due to the stress, Challenger
broke up . All seven crew members were killed.
This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster
occurred on January 28, 1986, when Challenger
Space Shuttle (mission STS-51-L) broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members. The spacecraft disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of central Florida at 11:38 EST (16:38 UTC). Disintegration of the entire vehicle began after an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed at liftoff. The O-ring failure caused a breach in the SRB joint it sealed, allowing pressurized hot gas from within the solid rocket motor to reach the outside and impinge upon the adjacent SRB attachment hardware and external fuel tank. This led to the separation of the right-hand SRBs aft attachment and the structural failure of the external tank. Aerodynamic forces promptly broke up the orbiter.
The crew compartment and many other vehicle fragments were eventually recovered from the ocean floor after a lengthy search and recovery operation. Although the exact timing of the death of the crew is unknown, several crew members are known to have survived the initial breakup of the spacecraft. However, the shuttle had no escape system and the impact of the crew compartment with the ocean surface was too violent to be survivable.
The disaster resulted in a 32-month hiatus in the shuttle program and the formation of the Rogers Commission, a special commission appointed by United States President Ronald Reagan to investigate the accident. The Rogers Commission found NASA's organizational culture and decision-making processes had been key contributing factors to the accident. NASA managers had known contractor Morton Thiokol's design of the SRBs contained a potentially catastrophic flaw in the O-rings since 1977, but failed to address it properly. They also disregarded warnings from engineers about the dangers of launching posed by the low temperatures of that morning and had failed in adequately reporting these technical concerns to their superiors.
What Rogers did not highlight was that the vehicle was never certified to operate in temperatures that low. The O-rings, as well as many other critical components, had no test data to support any expectation of a successful launch in such conditions. Bob Ebeling from Thiokol delivered a biting analysis: "[W]e're only qualified to 40 degrees ...'what business does anyone even have thinking about 18 degrees, we're in no man's land.'"
As a result of the disaster, the Air Force decided to cancel its plans to use the Shuttle for classified military satellite launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, deciding to use the Titan IV instead.
Many viewed the launch live because of the presence of crew member Christa McAuliffe, the first member of the Teacher in Space Project, who would have been the first teacher in space. Media coverage of the accident was extensive: one study reported that 85 percent of Americans surveyed had heard the news within an hour of the accident. The Challenger
disaster has been used as a case study in many discussions of engineering safety and workplace ethics.
Each of the two Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) that comprised part of the Space Transportation System was constructed of six sections joined in three factory joints and three "field joints". The factory joints had asbestos-silica insulation applied over the joint, while the field joints—assembled in the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center (KSC)—depended on two rubber O-rings, a primary and a secondary (backup), to seal them. (After the destruction of Challenger
, SRB field joints started using three O-rings.) The seals of all of the SRB joints were required to contain the hot high-pressure gases produced by the burning solid propellant inside, forcing it out the nozzle at the aft end of each rocket.
During the Space Shuttle design process, a McDonnell Douglas report in September 1971 discussed the safety record of solid rockets. While a safe abort was possible after most types of failures, one was especially dangerous: a burnthrough by hot gases of the rocket's casing. The report stated that "if burnthrough occurs adjacent to [liquid hydrogen/oxygen] tank or orbiter, timely sensing may not be feasible and abort not possible", accurately foreshadowing the Challenger
accident. Morton Thiokol was the contractor responsible for the construction and maintenance of the shuttle's SRBs. As originally designed by Thiokol, the O-ring joints in the SRBs were supposed to close more tightly due to forces generated at ignition. However, a 1977 test showed that when pressurized water was used to simulate the effects of booster combustion, the metal parts bent away
from each other, opening a gap through which gases could leak. This phenomenon, known as "joint rotation," caused a momentary drop in air pressure. This made it possible for combustion gases to erode the O-rings. In the event of widespread erosion, an actual flame path could develop, causing the joint to burst—which would have destroyed the booster and the shuttle.
Engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center wrote to the manager of the Solid Rocket Booster project, George Hardy, on several occasions suggesting that Thiokol's field joint design was unacceptable. For example, one engineer suggested that joint rotation would render the secondary O-ring useless. However, Hardy did not forward these memos to Thiokol, and the field joints were accepted for flight in 1980.
Evidence of serious O-ring erosion was present as early as the second space shuttle mission, STS-2, which was flown by Columbia.
However, contrary to NASA regulations, the Marshall Center did not report this problem to senior management at NASA, but opted to keep the problem within their reporting channels with Thiokol. Even after the O-rings were redesignated as "Criticality 1"—meaning that their failure would result in the destruction of the Orbiter—no one at Marshall suggested that the shuttles be grounded until the flaw could be fixed.
By 1985, Marshall and Thiokol realized that they had a potentially catastrophic problem on their hands. They began the process of redesigning the joint with three inches (76 mm) of additional steel around the tang. This tang would grip the inner face of the joint and prevent it from rotating. However, they did not call for a halt to shuttle flights until the joints could be redesigned. Rather, they treated the problem as an acceptable flight risk. For example, Lawrence Mulloy, Marshall's manager for the SRB project since 1982, issued and waived launch constraints for six consecutive flights. Thiokol even went as far as to persuade NASA to declare the O-ring problem "closed". Donald Kutyna, a member of the Rogers Commission, later likened this situation to an airline permitting one of its planes to continue to fly despite evidence that one of its wings was about to fall off.
was originally set to launch from KSC in Florida at 14:42 Eastern Standard Time (EST) on January 22. However, delays in the previous mission, STS-61-C, caused the launch date to be moved to January 23 and then to January 24. Launch was then rescheduled to January 25 due to bad weather at the Transoceanic Abort Landing (TAL) site in Dakar, Senegal. NASA decided to use Casablanca as the TAL site, but because it was not equipped for night landings, the launch had to be moved to the morning (Florida time). Predictions of unacceptable weather at KSC caused the launch to be rescheduled for 09:37 EST on January 27.
The launch was delayed the next day, due to problems with the exterior access hatch. First, one of the micro-switch indicators used to verify that the hatch was safely locked malfunctioned. Then, a stripped bolt prevented the closeout crew from removing a closing fixture from the orbiter's hatch. By the time repair personnel had sawn the fixture off, crosswinds at the Shuttle Landing Facility exceeded the limits for a Return to Launch Site (RTLS) abort. While the crew waited for winds to die down, the launch window expired, forcing yet another scrub.
Forecasts for January 28 predicted an unusually cold morning, with temperatures close to , the minimum temperature permitted for launch. The low temperature had prompted concern from Thiokol engineers. At a teleconference on the evening of January 27, Thiokol engineers and managers discussed the weather conditions with NASA managers from Kennedy Space Center and Marshall Space Flight Center. Several engineers—most notably Roger Boisjoly, who had voiced similar concerns previously—expressed their concern about the effect of the temperature on the resilience of the rubber O-rings that sealed the joints of the SRBs, and recommended a launch postponement. They argued that if the O-rings were colder than , they did not have enough data to determine whether the joint would properly seal. This was an important consideration, since the SRB O-rings had been designated as a "Criticality 1" component, meaning that there was no backup if both the primary and secondary O-rings failed, and their failure would destroy the Orbiter and its crew.
Thiokol management initially supported its engineers' recommendation to postpone the launch, but NASA staff opposed a delay. During the conference call, Hardy told Thiokol, "I am appalled. I am appalled by your recommendation." Mulloy said, "My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch — next April?" One argument of NASA personnel in contest to Thiokol's concerns was that if the primary O-ring failed, the secondary O-ring would still seal. This was unproven, and was in any case an illegitimate argument for a "Criticality 1" component. As astronaut Sally Ride cited in questioning NASA managers before the Rogers Commission, it is forbidden to rely on a backup for a "Criticality 1" component. The backup is there to provide redundancy in case of unforeseen failure, not to replace the primary device, leaving no backup.
NASA did not know of Thiokol's earlier concerns about the effects of the cold on the O-rings, and did not understand that Rockwell International, the shuttle's prime contractor, viewed the large amount of ice present on the pad as a constraint to launch. Because of NASA's opposition, Thiokol management reversed itself and recommended that the launch proceed as scheduled.
The Thiokol engineers had also argued that the low overnight temperatures (18 °F or −8 °C the evening prior to launch) would almost certainly result in SRB temperatures below their redline of . Ice had accumulated all over the launch pad, raising concerns that ice could damage the shuttle upon lift-off. The Kennedy Ice Team inadvertently pointed an infrared camera at the aft field joint of the right SRB and found the temperature to be only . This was believed to be the result of supercooled air blowing on the joint from the liquid oxygen tank vent. It was much lower than the air temperature and far below the design specifications for the O-rings. However, the reading was later determined to be erroneous, the error caused by not following the temperature probe manufacturer's instructions. Tests and adjusted calculations later confirmed that the temperature of the joint was not substantially different from the ambient temperature.
The temperature on the day of the launch was far lower than had been the case with previous launches: below freezing at 28 to 29 °F (−2.2 to −1.7 °C); previously, the coldest launch had been at . Although the Ice Team had worked through the night removing ice, engineers at Rockwell still expressed concern. Rockwell engineers watching the pad from their headquarters in Downey, California, were horrified when they saw the amount of ice. They feared that during launch, ice might be shaken loose and strike the shuttle's thermal protection tiles, possibly due to the aspiration induced by the jet of exhaust gas from the SRBs. Rocco Petrone, the head of Rockwell's space transportation division, and his colleagues viewed this situation as a launch constraint, and told Rockwell's managers at the Cape that Rockwell could not support a launch. However, Rockwell's managers at the Cape voiced their concerns in a manner that led Houston-based mission manager Arnold Aldrich to go ahead with the launch. Aldrich decided to postpone the shuttle launch by an hour to give the Ice Team time to perform another inspection. After that last inspection, during which the ice appeared to be melting, Challenger
was finally cleared to launch at 11:38 am EST.
The following account of the accident is derived from real time telemetry data and photographic analysis, as well as from transcripts of air-to-ground and mission control voice communications. All times are given in seconds after launch and correspond to the telemetry time-codes from the closest instrumented event to each described event.
Until liftoff actually occurs, the Space Shuttle main engines (SSMEs) can be safely shut down and the launch aborted if necessary. At liftoff time (T=0, which was at 11:38:00.010 EST), the three SSMEs were at 100% of their original rated performance, and began throttling up to 104% under computer control. At this moment, the two SRBs were ignited and hold-down bolts were released with explosives, freeing the vehicle from the pad. With the first vertical motion of the vehicle, the gaseous hydrogen vent arm retracted from the External Tank (ET) but failed to latch back. Review of film shot by pad cameras showed that the arm did not re-contact the vehicle, and thus it was ruled out as a contributing factor in the accident. The post-launch inspection of the pad also revealed that kick springs on four of the hold-down bolts were missing, but they were similarly ruled out as a possible cause.
Later review of launch film showed that at T+0.678, strong puffs of dark gray smoke were emitted from the right-hand SRB near the aft strut that attaches the booster to the ET. The last smoke puff occurred at about T+2.733. The last view of smoke around the strut was at T+3.375. It was later determined that these smoke puffs were caused by the opening and closing of the aft field joint of the right-hand SRB. The booster's casing had ballooned under the stress of ignition. As a result of this ballooning, the metal parts of the casing bent away from each other, opening a gap through which hot gases—above —leaked. This had occurred in previous launches, but each time the primary O-ring had shifted out of its groove and formed a seal. Although the SRB was not designed to function this way, it appeared to work well enough, and Morton-Thiokol changed the design specs to accommodate this process, known as extrusion.
While extrusion was taking place, hot gases leaked past (a process called "blow-by"), damaging the O-rings until a seal was made. Investigations by Morton-Thiokol engineers determined that the amount of damage to the O-rings was directly related to the time it took for extrusion to occur, and that cold weather, by causing the O-rings to harden, lengthened the time of extrusion. (The redesigned SRB field joint used subsequent to the Challenger
accident used an additional interlocking mortise and tang with a third O-ring, mitigating blow-by.)
On the morning of the disaster, the primary O-ring had become so hard due to the cold that it could not seal in time. The secondary O-ring was not in its seated position due to the metal bending. There was now no barrier to the gases, and both O-rings were vaporized across 70 degrees of arc. However, aluminum oxides from the burned solid propellant sealed the damaged joint, temporarily replacing the O-ring seal before actual flame rushed through the joint.
As the vehicle cleared the tower, the SSMEs were operating at 104% of their rated maximum thrust, and control switched from the Launch Control Center (LCC) at Kennedy to the Mission Control Center (MCC) at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. To prevent aerodynamic forces from structurally overloading the orbiter, at T+28 the SSMEs began throttling down to limit the velocity of the shuttle in the dense lower atmosphere, as per normal operating procedure. At T+35.379, the SSMEs throttled back further to the planned 65%. Five seconds later, at about 5,800 metres (19,000 ft), Challenger
passed through Mach 1. At T+51.860, the SSMEs began throttling back up to 104% as the vehicle passed beyond Max Q, the period of maximum aerodynamic pressure on the vehicle.
Beginning at about T+37 and for 27 seconds, the shuttle experienced a series of wind shear events that were stronger than on any previous flight.
At T+58.788, a tracking film camera captured the beginnings of a plume near the aft attach strut on the right SRB. Unknown to those on Challenger
or in Houston, hot gas had begun to leak through a growing hole in one of the right-hand SRBs joints. The force of the wind shear shattered the temporary oxide seal that had taken the place of the damaged O-rings, removing the last barrier to flame rushing through the joint. Had it not been for the wind shear, the fortuitous oxide seal might have held through booster burnout.
Within a second, the plume became well defined and intense. Internal pressure in the right SRB began to drop because of the rapidly enlarging hole in the failed joint, and at T+60.238 there was visual evidence of flame burning through the joint and impinging on the external tank.
At T+64.660, the plume suddenly changed shape, indicating that a leak had begun in the liquid hydrogen tank, located in the aft portion of the external tank. The nozzles of the main engines pivoted under computer control to compensate for the unbalanced thrust produced by the booster burn-through. The pressure in the shuttle's external liquid hydrogen tank began to drop at T+66.764, indicating the effect of the leak.
At this stage the situation still seemed normal both to the astronauts and to flight controllers. At T+68, the CAPCOM Richard O. Covey informed the crew that they were "go at throttle up", and Commander Dick Scobee confirmed the call. His response, "Roger, go at throttle up," was the last communication from Challenger
on the air-to-ground loop.
At T+72.284, the right SRB pulled away from the aft strut attaching it to the external tank. Later analysis of telemetry data showed a sudden lateral acceleration to the right at T+72.525, which may have been felt by the crew. The last statement captured by the crew cabin recorder came just half a second after this acceleration, when Pilot Michael J. Smith said "Uh oh." Smith may also have been responding to onboard indications of main engine performance, or to falling pressures in the external fuel tank.
At T+73.124, the aft dome of the liquid hydrogen tank failed, producing a propulsive force that pushed the hydrogen tank into the liquid oxygen tank in the forward part of the ET. At the same time, the right SRB rotated about the forward attach strut, and struck the intertank structure. This resulted in the spontaneous conflagration of the fuel which exploded the external tank, creating a massive plume of water vapor exhaust that enveloped the entire stack.
The breakup of the vehicle began at T+73.162 seconds and at an altitude of 48,000 feet (15 km). With the external tank disintegrating (and with the semi-detached right SRB contributing its thrust on an anomalous vector), Challenger
veered from its correct attitude with respect to the local airflow, resulting in a load factor of up to 20 (or 20 g), well over its design limit of 5 g and was quickly torn apart by abnormal aerodynamic forces (the orbiter itself did not explode). The two SRBs, which could withstand greater aerodynamic loads, separated from the ET and continued in uncontrolled powered flight. The SRB casings were made of half-inch (12.7 mm) thick steel and were much stronger than the orbiter and ET; thus, both SRBs survived the breakup of the space shuttle stack, even though the right SRB was still suffering the effects of the joint burn-through that had set the destruction of Challenger
The more robustly constructed crew cabin also survived the breakup of the launch vehicle; while the SRBs were subsequently destroyed remotely by the Range Safety Officer, the detached cabin continued along a ballistic trajectory and was observed exiting the cloud of gases at T+75.237. Twenty-five seconds after the breakup of the vehicle, the altitude of the crew compartment peaked at a height of 65,000 feet (20 km).
The Thiokol engineers who had opposed the decision to launch were watching the events on television. They had believed that any O-ring failure would have occurred at liftoff, and thus were happy to see the shuttle successfully leave the launch pad. At about one minute after liftoff, a friend of Boisjoly said to him "Oh God. We made it. We made it!" Boisjoly recalled that when the shuttle exploded a few seconds later, "we all knew exactly what happened."
In Mission Control, there was a burst of static on the air-to-ground loop as Challenger
disintegrated. Television screens showed a cloud of smoke and water vapor (the product of hydrogen combustion) where Challenger
had been, with pieces of debris falling toward the ocean. At about T+89, flight director Jay Greene prompted his flight dynamics officer (FIDO) for information. FIDO responded that "...the (radar) filter has discreting sources", a further indication that Challenger
had broken into multiple pieces. A minute later, the ground controller reported "negative contact (and) loss of downlink" of radio and telemetry data from Challenger
. Greene ordered his team to "watch your data carefully" and look for any sign that the Orbiter had escaped.
At T+110.250, the Range Safety Officer (RSO) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station sent radio signals that activated the range safety system's "destruct" packages on board both solid rocket boosters. This was a normal contingency procedure, undertaken because the RSO judged the free-flying SRBs a possible threat to land or sea. The same destruct signal would have destroyed the External Tank had it not already disintegrated.
Public affairs officer Steve Nesbitt reported: "Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction. We have no downlink."
On the Mission Control loop, Greene ordered that contingency procedures be put into effect; these procedures included locking the doors of the control center, shutting down telephone communications with the outside world, and following checklists that ensured that the relevant data were correctly recorded and preserved.
Nesbitt relayed this information to the public: "We have a report from the Flight Dynamics Officer that the vehicle has exploded. The flight director confirms that. We are looking at checking with recovery forces to see what can be done at this point."
The crew cabin, made of reinforced aluminum, was a particularly robust section of the shuttle. During vehicle breakup, it detached in one piece and slowly tumbled into a ballistic arc. NASA estimated the load factor at separation to be between 12 and 20 g; however, within two seconds it had already dropped to below 4 g and within ten seconds the cabin was in free fall. The forces involved at this stage were likely insufficient to cause major injury.
At least some of the astronauts were likely alive and briefly conscious after the breakup, as three of the four recovered Personal Egress Air Packs (PEAPs) on the flight deck were found to have been activated. Investigators found their remaining unused air supply roughly consistent with the expected consumption during the 2 minute 45 second post-breakup trajectory.
While analyzing the wreckage, investigators discovered that several electrical system switches on Pilot Mike Smith's right-hand panel had been moved from their usual launch positions. Fellow Astronaut Richard Mullane wrote, "These switches were protected with lever locks that required them to be pulled outward against a spring force before they could be moved to a new position." Later tests established that neither force of the explosion nor the impact with the ocean could have moved them, indicating that Smith made the switch changes, presumably in a futile attempt to restore electrical power to the cockpit after the crew cabin detached from the rest of the orbiter.
Whether the astronauts remained conscious long after the breakup is unknown, and largely depends on whether the detached crew cabin maintained pressure integrity. If it did not, the time of useful consciousness at that altitude is just a few seconds; the PEAPs supplied only unpressurized air, and hence would not have helped the crew to retain consciousness. If, on the other hand, the cabin was not depressurized or only slowly depressurizing, the astronauts may have been conscious and cognizant for the entire fall until impact.
NASA routinely trained shuttle astronauts for splashdown events. However, the cabin hit the ocean surface at roughly 207 mph (333 km/h), with an estimated deceleration at impact of well over 200 g, far beyond the structural limits of the crew compartment or crew survivability levels.
On July 28, 1986, Rear Admiral Richard H. Truly, NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Flight and a former astronaut, released a report from Joseph P. Kerwin, biomedical specialist from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, relating to the deaths of the astronauts in the accident. Kerwin, a veteran of the Skylab 2 mission, had been commissioned to undertake the study soon after the accident. According to the Kerwin Report:
Some experts believe most if not all of the crew were alive and possibly conscious during the entire descent until impact with the ocean. Astronaut and NASA lead accident investigator Robert Overmyer said "Scob fought for any and every edge to survive. He flew that ship without wings all the way down....they were alive."
During powered flight of the space shuttle, crew escape was not possible. While launch escape systems were considered several times during shuttle development, NASA's conclusion was that the shuttle's expected high reliability would preclude the need for one. Modified SR-71 Blackbird ejection seats and full pressure suits were used on the first four shuttle orbital missions, which were considered test flights, but they were removed for the "operational" missions that followed. (The Columbia Accident Investigation Board later declared, after the 2003 re-entry disasterColumbia
, that the space shuttle system should never have been declared operational because it is experimental by nature due to the limited number of flights as compared to certified commercial aircraft.) Providing a launch escape system for larger crews was considered undesirable due to "limited utility, technical complexity and excessive cost in dollars, weight or schedule delays."
After the loss of Challenger
, the question was re-opened, and NASA considered several different options, including ejector seats, tractor rockets and bailing out through the bottom of the orbiter. However, NASA once again concluded that all of the launch escape systems considered would be impractical due to the sweeping vehicle modifications that would have been necessary and the resultant limitations on crew size. A system was designed to give the crew the option to leave the shuttle during gliding flight; however, this system would not have been usable in the Challenger
On the night of the disaster, President Ronald Reagan had been scheduled to give his annual State of the Union address. He initially announced that the address would go on as scheduled, but then postponed the State of the Union address for a week and instead gave a national address on the Challenger
disaster from the Oval Office of the White House. It was written by Peggy Noonan, and is considered one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century. It finished with the following statement, which quoted from the poem "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.:
Three days later, Reagan and his wife Nancy traveled to the Johnson Space Center to speak at a memorial service honoring the astronauts where he stated:
It was attended by 6,000 NASA employees and 4,000 guests, as well as by the families of the crew. During the ceremony, an Air Force band led the singing of "God Bless America" as NASA T-38 Talon jets flew directly over the scene, in the traditional missing-man formation. All activities were broadcast live by the national television networks.
President Reagan would further mention the Challenger
astronauts at the beginning of his State of the Union address on February 4.
In the first minutes after the accident, recovery efforts were begun by NASA's Launch Recovery Director, who ordered the ships used by NASA for recovery of the solid rocket boosters to be sent to the location of the water impact. Search and rescue aircraft were also dispatched. At this stage, however, debris was still falling, and the Range Safety Officer (RSO) held both aircraft and ships out of the impact area until it was considered safe for them to enter. It was about an hour until the RSO allowed the recovery forces to begin their work.
The search and rescue operations that took place in the first week after the Challenger
accident were managed by the Department of Defense on behalf of NASA, with assistance from the United States Coast Guard, and mostly involved surface searches. According to the Coast Guard, "the operation was the largest surface search in which they had participated." This phase of operations lasted until February 7. Thereafter, recovery efforts were managed by a Search, Recovery, and Reconstruction team; its aim was to salvage debris that would help in determining the cause of the accident. Sonar, divers, remotely operated submersibles and manned submersibles were all used during the search, which covered an area of 480 nautical miles (890 km), and took place at depths of up to 370 metres (1,210 ft). On March 7, divers from the Preserver
USS identified what might be the crew compartment on the ocean floor. The finding, along with discovery of the remains of all seven crew members, was confirmed the next day and on March 9, NASA announced the finding to the press.
By May 1, enough of the right solid rocket booster had been recovered to determine the original cause of the accident, and the major salvage operations were concluded. While some shallow-water recovery efforts continued, this was unconnected with the accident investigation; it aimed to recover debris for use in NASA's studies of the properties of materials used in spacecraft and launch vehicles. The recovery operation was able to pull 15 short tons (14 t) of debris from the ocean; 55% of Challenger
, 5% of the crew cabin and 65% of the satellite cargo is still missing. Some of the missing debris continued to wash up on Florida shores for some years, such as on December 17, 1996, nearly 11 years after the incident, when two large pieces of the shuttle were found at Cocoa Beach. Under 18 U.S.C. § 641 it is against the law to be in possession of Challenger
debris, and any newly discovered pieces must be turned in to NASA.
On board Challenger
was an American flag, dubbed the Challenger flag, that was sponsored by Boy Scout Troop 514 of Monument, Colorado. It was recovered intact, still sealed in its plastic container.
All recovered non-organic debris from Challenger
was ultimately interred in a former missile silo at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 31.
The remains of the crew that were identifiable were returned to their families on April 29, 1986. Three of the crew members, Judith Resnik, Dick Scobee and the posthumously promoted]
[ Capt. Michael J. Smith, were buried by their families at Arlington National Cemetery at individual grave sites. Mission Specialist Lt Col Ellison Onizuka was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. Unidentified crew remains were buried communally at the Space Shuttle Challenger
Memorial in Arlington on May 20, 1986.
Several National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellites that only the shuttle could launch were grounded because of the accident, a dilemma NRO had feared since the 1970s when the shuttle was designated as the United States' primary launch system for all government and commercial payloads. NASA had difficulties with its own Titan rocket and Delta rocket programs, due to other unexpected rocket failures occurring before and after the Challenger
disaster. On August 28, 1985, a Titan 34D carrying a KH-11 KENNAN satellite exploded after liftoff over Vandenberg Air Force Base, when the first stage propellant motor failed. It was the first failure of a Titan missile since 1978. On April 18, 1986, another Titan 34D-9 carrying a classified payload, said to be a Big Bird spy satellite, exploded at about 830 feet above the pad after liftoff over Vandenberg AFB, when a burnthrough occurred on one of the rocket boosters. On May 3, 1986, a Delta 3914 carrying the GOES-G weather satellite exploded 71 seconds after liftoff over Cape Canaveral Air Force Station due to an electrical malfunction on the Delta's first stage, which prompted the range safety officer on the ground to decide to destroy the rocket, just as a few of the rocket's boosters were jettisoned. As a result of these three failures, NASA decided to cancel all Titan and Delta launches from Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg for four months, until the problem in the rockets' designs were solved.
Due to the shuttle fleet being grounded, excess ammonium perchlorate that was manufactured as rocket fuel was kept on site at the Pacific Engineering and Production Company of Nevada (PEPCON) plant in Henderson, Nevada. This excess ammonium perchlorate later caught fire and the resulting explosion destroyed the PEPCON facility and the neighboring Kidd & Co marshmallow factory.
In the aftermath of the accident, NASA was criticized for its lack of openness with the press. The New York Times
noted on the day after the accident that "neither Jay Greene, flight director for the ascent, nor any other person in the control room, was made available to the press by the space agency". In the absence of reliable sources, the press turned to speculation; both The New York Times
and United Press International ran stories suggesting that a fault with the space shuttle external tank had caused the accident, despite the fact that NASA's internal investigation had quickly focused in on the solid rocket boosters. "The space agency," wrote space reporter William Harwood, "stuck to its policy of strict secrecy about the details of the investigation, an uncharacteristic stance for an agency that long prided itself on openness."
The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident
, also known as the Rogers Commission (after its chairman), was formed to investigate the disaster. The commission members were Chairman William P. Rogers, Vice Chairman Neil Armstrong, David Acheson, Eugene Covert, Richard Feynman, Robert Hotz, Donald Kutyna, Sally Ride, Robert Rummel, Joseph Sutter, Arthur Walker, Albert Wheelon, and Chuck Yeager. The commission worked for several months and published a report of its findings. It found that the Challenger
accident was caused by a failure in the O-rings sealing a joint on the right solid rocket booster, which allowed pressurized hot gases and eventually flame to "blow by" the O-ring and make contact with the adjacent external tank, causing structural failure. The failure of the O-rings was attributed to a faulty design, whose performance could be too easily compromised by factors including the low temperature on the day of launch.
More broadly, the report also considered the contributing causes of the accident. Most salient was the failure of both NASA and Morton Thiokol to respond adequately to the danger posed by the deficient joint design. Rather than redesigning the joint, they came to define the problem as an acceptable flight risk. The report found that managers at Marshall had known about the flawed design since 1977, but never discussed the problem outside their reporting channels with Thiokol—a flagrant violation of NASA regulations. Even when it became more apparent how serious the flaw was, no one at Marshall considered grounding the shuttles until a fix could be implemented. On the contrary, Marshall managers went as far as to issue and waive six launch constraints related to the O-rings. The report also strongly criticized the decision-making process that led to the launch of Challenger
, saying that it was seriously flawed.
One of the commission's best-known members was theoretical physicist Richard Feynman. During a televised hearing, he famously demonstrated how the O-rings became less resilient and subject to seal failures at ice-cold temperatures by immersing a sample of the material in a glass of ice water. He was so critical of flaws in NASA's "safety culture" that he threatened to remove his name from the report unless it included his personal observations on the reliability of the shuttle, which appeared as Appendix F. In the appendix, he argued that the estimates of reliability offered by NASA management were wildly unrealistic, differing as much as a thousandfold from the estimates of working engineers. "For a successful technology," he concluded, "reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."
The U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology also conducted hearings, and on October 29, 1986, released its own report on the Challenger
accident. The committee reviewed the findings of the Rogers Commission as part of its investigation, and agreed with the Rogers Commission as to the technical causes of the accident. However, it differed from the committee in its assessment of the accident's contributing causes:
After the Challenger
accident, further shuttle flights were suspended, pending the results of the Rogers Commission investigation. Whereas NASA had held an internal inquiry into the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, its actions after Challenger
were more constrained by the judgment of outside bodies. The Rogers Commission offered nine recommendations on improving safety in the space shuttle program, and NASA was directed by President Reagan to report back within thirty days as to how it planned to implement those recommendations.
When the disaster occurred, the Air Force had performed extensive modifications of its Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6, pronounced as "Slick Six") at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California, for launch and landing operations of classified Shuttle launches of satellites in polar orbit, and was planning its first polar flight for October 15, 1986. Originally built for the Manned Orbital Laboratory project cancelled in 1969, the modifications were proving problematic and expensive, costing over $4 billion. The Challenger loss motivated the Air Force to set in motion a chain of events that finally led to the May 13, 1988 decision to cancel its Vandenberg Shuttle launch plans, in favor of the Titan IV unmanned launch vehicle.
In response to the commission's recommendation, NASA initiated a total redesign of the space shuttle's solid rocket boosters, which was watched over by an independent oversight group as stipulated by the commission. NASA's contract with Morton Thiokol, the contractor responsible for the solid rocket boosters, included a clause stating that in the event of a failure leading to "loss of life or mission," Thiokol would forfeit $10 million of its incentive fee and formally accept legal liability for the failure. After the Challenger
accident, Thiokol agreed to "voluntarily accept" the monetary penalty in exchange for not being forced to accept liability.
NASA also created a new Office of Safety, Reliability and Quality Assurance, headed as the commission had specified by a NASA associate administrator who reported directly to the NASA administrator. George Martin, formerly of Martin Marietta, was appointed to this position. Former Challenger
flight director Jay Greene became chief of the Safety Division of the directorate.
The unrealistically optimistic launch schedule pursued by NASA had been criticized by the Rogers Commission as a possible contributing cause to the accident. After the accident, NASA attempted to aim at a more realistic shuttle flight rate: it added another orbiter, Endeavour
, to the space shuttle fleet to replace Challenger
, and it worked with the Department of Defense to put more satellites in orbit using expendable launch vehicles rather than the shuttle. In August 1986, President Reagan also announced that the shuttle would no longer carry commercial satellite payloads. After a 32-month hiatus, the next shuttle mission, STS-26, was launched on September 29, 1988.
Although changes were made by NASA after the Challenger
accident, many commentators have argued that the changes in its management structure and organizational culture were neither deep nor long-lasting.
After the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, attention once again focused on the attitude of NASA management towards safety issues. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) concluded that NASA had failed to learn many of the lessons of Challenger
. In particular, the agency had not set up a truly independent office for safety oversight; the CAIB felt that in this area, "NASA's response to the Rogers Commission did not meet the Commission's intent". The CAIB believed that "the causes of the institutional failure responsible for Challenger
have not been fixed," saying that the same "flawed decision making process" that had resulted in the Challenger
accident was responsible for sColumbia'
destruction seventeen years later.
While the presence of New Hampshire schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe on the Challenger
crew had provoked some media interest, there was little live broadcast coverage of the launch. The only live national TV coverage available publicly was provided by CNN; although several radio networks were also live. Due to McAuliffe's presence on the mission, NASA arranged for many U.S. public schools to view the launch live on NASA TV. As a result, many who were schoolchildren in the US in 1986 did in fact have the opportunity to view the launch live. After the accident, however, 17% of respondents in one study reported that they had seen the shuttle launch, while 85% said that they had learned of the accident within an hour. As the authors of the paper reported, "only two studies have revealed more rapid dissemination [of news]." (One of those studies was of the spread of news in Dallas after President John F. Kennedy's assassination, while the other was the spread of news among students at Kent State regarding President Franklin D. Roosevelt's death.) Another study noted that "even those who were not watching television at the time of the disaster were almost certain to see the graphic pictures of the accident replayed as the television networks reported the story almost continuously for the rest of the day." Children were even more likely than adults to have seen the accident live, since many children — 48 percent of nine to thirteen-year-olds, according to a New York Times
poll — watched the launch at school.
Following the day of the accident, press interest remained high. While only 535 reporters were accredited to cover the launch, three days later there were 1467 reporters at Kennedy Space Center and another 1040 at Johnson Space Center. The event made headlines in newspapers worldwide.
accident has frequently been used as a case study in the study of subjects such as engineering safety, the ethics of whistle-blowing, communications, group decision-making, and the dangers of groupthink. It is part of the required readings for engineers seeking a professional license in Canada and other countries. Roger Boisjoly, the engineer who had warned about the effect of cold weather on the O-rings, left his job at Morton Thiokol and became a speaker on workplace ethics. He argues that the caucus called by Morton Thiokol managers, which resulted in a recommendation to launch, "constituted the unethical decision-making forum resulting from intense customer intimidation." For his honesty and integrity leading up to and directly following the shuttle disaster, Roger Boisjoly was awarded the Prize for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Many colleges and universities have also used the accident in classes on the ethics of engineering.
Information designer Edward Tufte has claimed that the Challenger
accident is an example of the problems that can occur from the lack of clarity in the presentation of information. He argues that if Morton Thiokol engineers had more clearly presented the data that they had on the relationship between low temperatures and burn-through in the solid rocket booster joints, they might have succeeded in persuading NASA managers to cancel the launch; to demonstrate, he took all of the data he claimed Thiokol had given during the briefing and placed it on a single graph of O-ring damage versus external launch temperature, showing an alleged effects of cold on the degree of O-Ring damage, then placed the proposed launch of Challenger
on the graph according to its predicted temperature at launch. According to Tufte the launch of Challenger
was so far away from the coldest launch with the worst damage ever seen to date that even a casual observer could have determined the danger level was severe. Tufte has also argued that poor presentation of information may have affected NASA decisions during the last flight of Columbia
. Robison, a Rochester Institute of Technology professor, and Boisjoly vigorously refuted Tufte's conclusions about the Morton Thiokol engineers' role in the loss of Challenger
. First they say that the engineers didn't have the information available as Tufte claimed: "But they did not know the temperatures even though they did try to obtain that information. Tufte has not gotten the facts right even though the information was available to him had he looked for it." They further argue that Tufte "misunderstands thoroughly the argument and evidence the engineers gave". They also criticised Tufte's diagram as "fatally flawed by Tufte's own criteria. The vertical axis tracks the wrong effect, and the horizontal axis cites temperatures not available to the engineers and, in addition, mixes O-ring temperatures and ambient air temperature as though the two were the same."
After the accident, NASA's Space Shuttle fleet was grounded for almost three years while the investigation, hearings, engineering redesign of the SRBs, and other behind-the-scenes technical and management reviews, changes, and preparations were taking place. At 11:37 on September 29, 1988, Space Shuttle Discovery
lifted off with a crew of five from Kennedy Space Center pad 39-B. It carried a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, TDRS-C (named TDRS-3 after deployment), which replaced TDRS-B, the satellite that was launched and lost on Challenger. The "Return to Flight" launch of Discovery also represented a test of the redesigned boosters, a shift to a more conservative stance on safety (e.g., it was the first time the crew had launched in pressure suits since STS-4, the last of the four initial Shuttle test flights), and a chance to restore national pride in the American space program, especially manned space flight. The mission, STS-26, was a success (with only two minor system failures, one of a cabin cooling system and one of a Ku-band antenna), and a regular schedule of STS flights followed, continuing without extended interruption until the 2003 Columbia
Barbara Morgan, the backup astronaut for McAuliffe who trained with her in the Teacher in Space program and was at KSC watching her launch on January 28, 1986, flew on STS-118 as a Mission Specialist in August 2007.
The families of the Challenger
crew organized the Challenger Center for Space Science Education as a permanent memorial to the crew. Fifty-two learning centers have been established by this non-profit organization.]
An elementary school in Nogales, Arizona, commemorates the accident in name, Challenger Elementary School, and their school motto, "Reach for the sky". The suburbs of Seattle, Washington are home to Challenger Elementary School in Issaquah, Washington and Christa McAuliffe Elementary School in Sammamish, Washington. In San Diego, California, the next-opened public middle school in the San Diego Unified School District was named Challenger Middle School. The City of Palmdale, the birthplace of the entire shuttle fleet, and its neighbor City of Lancaster, California, both renamed 10th Street East
, from Avenue M to Edwards Air Force Base, to Challenger Way
in honor of the lost shuttle and its crew.]
[ This was the road that the Challenger
, and Columbia
all were towed along in their initial move from U.S. Air Force Plant 42 to Edwards AFB after completion since Palmdale airport had not yet installed the shuttle crane for placement of an orbiter on the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.]
[ In addition, the City of Lancaster has built Challenger Middle School, and Challenger Memorial Hall at the former site of the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, all in tribute to the Challenger
shuttle and crew.]
[ The public Peers Park in Palo Alto, California features a "Challenger Memorial Grove" that includes redwood trees grown from seeds carried aboard in 1985Challenger
In Cocoa, Brevard County, Florida (the county where Cape Canaveral and KSC are located), Challenger 7 Elementary School is named in memory of the seven astronauts who lost their lives. There is also a middle school in neighboring Rockledge, McNair Magnet School, named after astronaut Ronald McNair. A middle school in Boynton Beach, Florida, is named after deceased teacher/astronaut, Christa McAuliffe. There are also schools in Lowell, Massachusetts, and Lenexa, Kansas, named in honor of Christa McAuliffe. The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, a science museum and planetarium in Concord, New Hampshire, is also partly named in her honor. There is also an elementary school in Germantown, Maryland, named after Christa McAuliffe as well as in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The draw bridge over the barge canal on State Rd.3 on Merritt Island, Florida, is named the Christa McAuliffe Memorial Bridge.
In 2004, President George W. Bush conferred posthumous Congressional Space Medals of Honor to all 14 astronauts lost in the Challenger
The disaster is notable for the lack of video documentation of the event. Until 2010, the live broadcast of the launch and subsequent disaster by CNN was the only known on-location video footage from within range of the launch site. In 2012, four other motion picture recordings of the event were publicly released:
A BBC docudrama titled The Challenger
was broadcast on March 18, 2013, based on the last of Richard Feynman's autobiographical works, What Do You Care What Other People Think?
. It stars William Hurt as Richard Feynman. It includes the notion that NASA promised the US Air Force that it could launch military payloads on the Shuttle, in order to get funding that would have been earmarked for development of the Titan IV expendable launcher. Numerous delays on previous flights had already reduced NASA's credibility, and after the Challenger disaster, the Air Force developed the Titan IV instead of using the Shuttle.
This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The Space Shuttle
was a crewed, partially reusable low Earth orbital spacecraft operated by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Its official program name was Space Transportation System
, taken from a 1969 plan for a system of reusable spacecraft of which it was the only item funded for development. The first of four orbital test flights occurred in 1981, leading to operational flights beginning in 1982. It was used on a total of 135 missions from 1981 to 2011, launched from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Operational missions launched numerous satellites, interplanetary probes, and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST); conducted science experiments in orbit; and participated in construction and servicing of the International Space Station.
Shuttle components included the Orbiter Vehicle (OV), a pair of recoverable Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB), and an expendable External Tank (ET) containing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The Shuttle was launched vertically like a conventional rocket with the two SRBs operating in parallel with the OV's three main engines, which were fueled from the External Tank. The SRBs were jettisoned before the vehicle reached orbit, and the ET was jettisoned just before orbit insertion using the orbiter's two Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) engines. At the conclusion of the mission, the orbiter fired its OMS to drop out of orbit and re-enter the atmosphere. The orbiter glided to a runway landing on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base in California or at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the KSC. After Edwards landings, the orbiter was flown back to KSC on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a specially modified Boeing 747.
The first orbiter, Enterprise
, was built purely for Approach and Landing Tests and had no capability to fly into orbit. Four fully operational orbiters were initially built: Columbia
, and Atlantis
. Of these, Challenger
were lost in mission accidents in 1986 and 2003, respectively, in which a total of fourteen astronauts were killed. A fifth operational orbiter, Endeavour
, was built in 1991 to replace Challenger
. The Space Shuttle was retired from service upon the conclusion of Atlantis
final flight on July 21, 2011.
The Space Shuttle was a partially reusable human spaceflight vehicle capable of reaching low Earth orbit, commissioned and operated by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from 1981 to 2011. It resulted from shuttle design studies conducted by NASA and the US Air Force in the 1960s and was first proposed for development as part of an ambitious second-generation Space Transportation System (STS) of space vehicles to follow the Apollo program in a September 1969 report of a Space Task Group headed by Vice President Spiro Agnew to President Richard Nixon. Post-Apollo NASA budgeting realities impelled Nixon to withhold support of all system components except the Shuttle, to which NASA applied the STS name.
The vehicle consisted of a spaceplane for orbit and re-entry, fueled by an expendable liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen tank, with reusable strap-on solid booster rockets. The first of four orbital test flights occurred in 1981, leading to operational flights beginning in 1982, all launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The system was retired from service in 2011 after 135 missions on July 8, 2011, with Space Shuttle Atlantis performing that 135th launch - the final launch of the three-decade Shuttle program. The program ended after Atlantis landed at the Kennedy Space Center on July 21, 2011. Major missions included launching numerous satellites and interplanetary probes, conducting space science experiments, and servicing and construction of space stations. The first orbiter vehicle, named Enterprise
, was built for the initial Approach and Landing Tests phase and lacked engines, heat shield,]
[ and other equipment necessary for orbital flight. A total of five operational orbiters were built, and of these, two were destroyed in accidents.
It was used for orbital space missions by NASA, the US Department of Defense, the European Space Agency, Japan, and Germany. The United States funded Shuttle development and operations except for the Spacelab modules used on D1 and D2—sponsored by Germany. SL-J was partially funded by Japan.
At launch, it consisted of the "stack", including a dark orange external tank (ET); two white, slender Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs); and the Orbiter Vehicle (OV), which contained the crew and payload. Some payloads were launched into higher orbits with either of two different booster stages developed for the STS (single-stage Payload Assist Module or two-stage Inertial Upper Stage). The Space Shuttle was stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building, and the stack mounted on a mobile launch platform held down by four frangible nuts on each SRB, which were detonated at launch.
The Shuttle stack launched vertically like a conventional rocket. It lifted off under the power of its two SRBs and three main engines, which were fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen from the external tank. The Space Shuttle had a two-stage ascent. The SRBs provided additional thrust during liftoff and first-stage flight. About two minutes after liftoff, frangible nuts were fired, releasing the SRBs, which then parachuted into the ocean, to be retrieved by ships for refurbishment and reuse. The Shuttle orbiter and external tank continued to ascend on an increasingly horizontal flight path under power from its main engines. Upon reaching 17,500 mph (7.8 km/s), necessary for low Earth orbit, the main engines were shut down. The external tank, attached by two frangible nuts was then jettisoned to burn up in the atmosphere. After jettisoning the external tank, the orbital maneuvering system (OMS) engines were used to adjust the orbit.
The orbiter carried astronauts and payloads such as satellites or space station parts into low Earth orbit, the Earth's upper atmosphere or thermosphere. Usually, five to seven crew members rode in the orbiter. Two crew members, the commander and pilot, were sufficient for a minimal flight, as in the first four "test" flights, STS-1 through STS-4. The typical payload capacity was about 50,045 pounds (22,700 kg) but could be increased depending on the choice of launch configuration. The orbiter carried its payload in a large cargo bay with doors that opened along the length of its top, a feature which made the Space Shuttle unique among spacecraft. This feature made possible the deployment of large satellites such as the Hubble Space Telescope and also the capture and return of large payloads back to Earth.
When the orbiter's space mission was complete, it fired its OMS thrusters to drop out of orbit and re-enter the lower atmosphere. During descent, the orbiter passed through different layers of the atmosphere and decelerated from hypersonic speed primarily by aerobraking. In the lower atmosphere and landing phase, it was more like a glider but with reaction control system (RCS) thrusters and fly-by wire-controlled hydraulically-actuated flight surfaces controlling its descent. It landed on a long runway as a spaceplane. The aerodynamic shape was a compromise between the demands of radically different speeds and air pressures during re-entry, hypersonic flight, and subsonic atmospheric flight. As a result, the orbiter had a relatively high sink rate at low altitudes, and it transitioned during re-entry from using RCS thrusters at very high altitudes to flight surfaces in the lower atmosphere.
The formal design of what became the Space Shuttle began with "Phase A" contract design studies issued in the late 1960s. Conceptualization had begun two decades earlier, before the Apollo program of the 1960s. One of the places the concept of a spacecraft returning from space to a horizontal landing originated was within NACA, in 1954, in the form of an aeronautics research experiment later named the X-15. The NACA proposal was submitted by Walter Dornberger.
In 1958, the X-15 concept further developed into proposal to launch an X-15 into space, and another X-series spaceplane proposal, called the X-20, which was not constructed, as well as variety of aerospace plane concepts and studies. Neil Armstrong was selected to pilot both the X-15 and the X-20. Though the X-20 was not built, another spaceplane similar to the X-20 was built several years later and delivered to NASA in January 1966 called the HL-10 ("HL" indicated "horizontal landing").
In the mid-1960s, the US Air Force conducted classified studies on next-generation space transportation systems and concluded that semi-reusable designs were the cheapest choice. It proposed a development program with an immediate start on a "Class I" vehicle with expendable boosters, followed by slower development of a "Class II" semi-reusable design and perhaps a "Class III" fully reusable design later. In 1967, George Mueller held a one-day symposium at NASA headquarters to study the options. Eighty people attended and presented a wide variety of designs, including earlier Air Force designs as the Dyna-Soar (X-20).
In 1968, NASA officially began work on what was then known as the Integrated Launch and Re-entry Vehicle (ILRV). At the same time, NASA held a separate Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) competition. NASA offices in Houston and Huntsville jointly issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for ILRV studies to design a spacecraft that could deliver a payload to orbit but also re-enter the atmosphere and fly back to Earth. For example, one of the responses was for a two-stage design, featuring a large booster and a small orbiter, called the DC-3, one of several Phase A Shuttle designs. After the aforementioned "Phase A" studies, B, C, and D phases progressively evaluated in-depth designs up to 1972. In the final design, the bottom stage was recoverable solid rocket boosters, and the top stage used an expendable external tank.
In 1969, President Richard Nixon decided to support proceeding with Space Shuttle development. A series of development programs and analysis refined the basic design, prior to full development and testing. In August 1973, the X-24B proved that an unpowered spaceplane could re-enter Earth's atmosphere for a horizontal landing.
Across the Atlantic, European ministers met in Belgium in 1973 to authorize Western Europe's manned orbital project and its main contribution to Space Shuttle—the Spacelab program. Spacelab would provide a multidisciplinary orbital space laboratory and additional space equipment for the Shuttle.
The Space Shuttle was the first operational orbital spacecraft designed for reuse. It carried different payloads to low Earth orbit, provided crew rotation and supplies for the International Space Station (ISS), and performed servicing missions. The orbiter could also recover satellites and other payloads from orbit and return them to Earth. Each Shuttle was designed for a projected lifespan of 100 launches or ten years of operational life, although this was later extended. The person in charge of designing the STS was Maxime Faget, who had also overseen the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft designs. The crucial factor in the size and shape of the Shuttle Orbiter was the requirement that it be able to accommodate the largest planned commercial and military satellites, and have over 1,000 mile cross-range recovery range to meet the requirement for classified USAF missions for a once-around abort from a launch to a polar orbit. This military specified 1,085 nm cross range requirement is one of the primary reasons that the Shuttle was designed with such large wings, compared to modern commercial designs with very minimal control surfaces and glide capability. Factors involved in opting for solid rockets and an expendable fuel tank included the desire of the Pentagon to obtain a high-capacity payload vehicle for satellite deployment, and the desire of the Nixon administration to reduce the costs of space exploration by developing a spacecraft with reusable components.
Each Space Shuttle is a reusable launch system that is composed of three main assemblies: the reusable Orbiter Vehicle (OV), the expendable external tank (ET), and the two reusable solid rocket boosters (SRBs). Only the orbiter entered orbit shortly after the tank and boosters are jettisoned. The vehicle was launched vertically like a conventional rocket, and the orbiter glided to a horizontal landing like an airplane, after which it was refurbished for reuse. The SRBs parachuted to splashdown in the ocean where they were towed back to shore and refurbished for later Shuttle missions.
Five operational orbiters were built: Columbia
(OV-104), and Endeavour
(OV-105). A mock-up, Inspiration
, currently stands at the entrance to the Astronaut Hall of Fame. An additional craft, Enterprise
(OV-101), was not built for orbital space flight, and was used only for testing gliding and landing. Enterprise
was originally intended to be outfitted for orbital operations after its use in the approach and landing test (ALT) program, but it was found more economical to upgrade the structural test article STA-099 into orbiter Challenger
disintegrated 73 seconds after launch in 1986, and Endeavour
was built as a replacement for Challenger
from structural spare components. Columbia
broke apart over Texas during re-entry in 2003. Building Space Shuttle Endeavour
cost about US$1.7 billion. A Space Shuttle launch cost around $450 million.
Roger A. Pielke, Jr. has estimated that the Space Shuttle program cost about US$170 billion (2008 dollars) through early 2008. This works out to an average cost per flight of about US$1.5 billion. Two missions were paid for by Germany, Spacelab D1 and D2 (D for Deutschland
) with a payload control center in Oberpfaffenhofen. D1 was the first time that control of a manned STS mission payload was not in U.S. hands.
At times, the orbiter itself was referred to as the Space Shuttle. This was not technically correct. The Space Shuttle
was the combination of the orbiter, the external tank, and the two solid rocket boosters. These components, once assembled in the Vehicle Assembly Building originally built to assemble the Apollo Saturn V rocket, were referred to as the "stack".
Responsibility for the Shuttle components was spread among multiple NASA field centers. The Kennedy Space Center was responsible for launch, landing and turnaround operations for equatorial orbits (the only orbit profile actually used in the program), the US Air Force at the Vandenberg Air Force Base was responsible for launch, landing and turnaround operations for polar orbits (though this was never used), the Johnson Space Center served as the central point for all Shuttle operations, the Marshall Space Flight Center was responsible for the main engines, external tank, and solid rocket boosters, the John C. Stennis Space Center handled main engine testing, and the Goddard Space Flight Center managed the global tracking network.
The orbiter resembles a conventional aircraft, with double-delta wings swept 81° at the inner leading edge and 45° at the outer leading edge. Its vertical stabilizer's leading edge is swept back at a 50° angle. The four elevons, mounted at the trailing edge of the wings, and the rudder/speed brake, attached at the trailing edge of the stabilizer, with the body flap, controlled the orbiter during descent and landing.
The orbiter's payload bay measures 15 by 60 feet (4.6 by 18 m), comprising most of the fuselage. Information declassified in 2011 showed that the payload bay was designed specifically to accommodate the KH-9 HEXAGON spy satellite operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. Two mostly symmetrical lengthwise payload bay doors hinged on either side of the bay comprise its entire top. Payloads were generally loaded horizontally into the bay while the orbiter is oriented vertically on the launch pad and unloaded vertically in the near-weightless orbital environment by the orbiter's robotic remote manipulator arm (under astronaut control), EVA astronauts, or under the payloads' own power (as for satellites attached to a rocket "upper stage" for deployment.)
Three Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) are mounted on the orbiter's aft fuselage in a triangular pattern. The engine nozzles can gimbal 10.5 degrees up and down, and 8.5 degrees from side to side during ascent to change the direction of their thrust to steer the Shuttle. The orbiter structure is made primarily from aluminum alloy, although the engine structure is made primarily from titanium alloy.
The operational orbiters built were OV-102 Columbia
, OV-099 Challenger
, OV-103 Discovery
, OV-104 Atlantis
, and OV-105 Endeavour
Space Shuttle transported by a Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), 1998 (NASA)
Space Shuttle Endeavour
being transported by a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft
An overhead view of Atlantis
as it sits atop the Mobile Launcher Platform (MLP) before STS-79. Two Tail Service Masts (TSMs) to either side of the orbiter's tail provide umbilical connections for propellant loading and electrical power.
Water is released onto the mobile launcher platform on Launch Pad 39A at the start of a sound suppression system test in 2004. During launch, 350,000 US gallons (1,300,000 L) of water are poured onto the pad in 41 seconds.
The main function of the Space Shuttle external tank was to supply the liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuel to the main engines. It was also the backbone of the launch vehicle, providing attachment points for the two Solid Rocket Boosters and the Orbiter. The external tank was the only part of the Shuttle system that was not reused. Although the external tanks were always discarded, it would have been possible to take them into orbit and re-use them (such as for incorporation into a space station).
Two solid rocket boosters (SRBs) each provided 12.5 million newtons (2.8 million lbf) of thrust at liftoff, which was 83% of the total thrust at liftoff. The SRBs were jettisoned two minutes after launch at a height of about 150,000 feet (46 km), and then deployed parachutes and landed in the ocean to be recovered. The SRB cases were made of steel about ½ inch (13 mm) thick. The Solid Rocket Boosters were re-used many times; the casing used in Ares I engine testing in 2009 consisted of motor cases that had been flown, collectively, on 48 Shuttle missions, including STS-1.
The orbiter could be used in conjunction with a variety of add-ons depending on the mission. This included orbital laboratories (Spacelab, Spacehab), boosters for launching payloads farther into space (Inertial Upper Stage, Payload Assist Module), and other functions, such as provided by Extended Duration Orbiter, Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules, or Canadarm (RMS). An upper stage called Transfer Orbit Stage (Orbital Science Corp. TOS-21) was also used once. Other types of systems and racks were part of the modular Spacelab system —pallets, igloo, IPS, etc., which also supported special missions such as SRTM.
IUS deploying with Galileo
PAM-D with satellite
EDO being installed
Spacelab in orbit
A major component of the Space Shuttle Program was Spacelab, primarily contributed by a consortium of European countries, and operated in conjunction with the United States and international partners. Supported by a modular system of pressurized modules, pallets, and systems, Spacelab missions executed on multidisciplinary science, orbital logistics, and international cooperation. Over 29 missions flew on subjects ranging from astronomy, microgravity, radar, and life sciences, to name a few. Spacelab hardware also supported missions such as Hubble (HST) servicing and space station resupply. STS-2 and STS-3 provided testing, and the first full mission was Spacelab-1 (STS-9) launched on November 28, 1983.
Spacelab formally began in 1973, after a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, by European heads of state. Within the decade, Spacelab went into orbit and provided Europe and the United States with an orbital workshop and hardware system. International cooperation, science, and exploration were realized on Spacelab.
The Shuttle was one of the earliest craft to use a computerized fly-by-wire digital flight control system. This means no mechanical or hydraulic linkages connected the pilot's control stick to the control surfaces or reaction control system thrusters.
A concern with digital fly-by-wire systems is reliability. Considerable research went into the Shuttle computer system. The Shuttle used five identical redundant IBM 32-bit general purpose computers (GPCs), model AP-101, constituting a type of embedded system. Four computers ran specialized software called the Primary Avionics Software System (PASS). A fifth backup computer ran separate software called the Backup Flight System (BFS). Collectively they were called the Data Processing System (DPS).
The design goal of the Shuttle's DPS was fail-operational/fail-safe reliability. After a single failure, the Shuttle could still continue the mission. After two failures, it could still land safely.
The four general-purpose computers operated essentially in lockstep, checking each other. If one computer failed, the three functioning computers "voted" it out of the system. This isolated it from vehicle control. If a second computer of the three remaining failed, the two functioning computers voted it out. In the unlikely case that two out of four computers simultaneously failed (a two-two split), one group was to be picked at random.
The Backup Flight System (BFS) was separately developed software running on the fifth computer, used only if the entire four-computer primary system failed. The BFS was created because although the four primary computers were hardware redundant, they all ran the same software, so a generic software problem could crash all of them. Embedded system avionic software was developed under totally different conditions from public commercial software: the number of code lines was tiny compared to a public commercial software, changes were only made infrequently and with extensive testing, and many programming and test personnel worked on the small amount of computer code. However, in theory it could have still failed, and the BFS existed for that contingency. While the BFS could run in parallel with PASS, the BFS never engaged to take over control from PASS during any Shuttle mission.
The software for the Shuttle computers was written in a high-level language called HAL/S, somewhat similar to PL/I. It is specifically designed for a real time embedded system environment.
The IBM AP-101 computers originally had about 424 kilobytes of magnetic core memory each. The CPU could process about 400,000 instructions per second. They had no hard disk drive, and loaded software from magnetic tape cartridges.
In 1990, the original computers were replaced with an upgraded model AP-101S, which had about 2.5 times the memory capacity (about 1 megabyte) and three times the processor speed (about 1.2 million instructions per second). The memory was changed from magnetic core to semiconductor with battery backup.
Early Shuttle missions, starting in November 1983, took along the GRiD Compass, arguably one of the first laptop computers. The GRiD was given the name SPOC, for Shuttle Portable Onboard Computer. Use on the Shuttle required both hardware and software modifications which were incorporated into later versions of the commercial product. It was used to monitor and display the Shuttle's ground position, path of the next two orbits, show where the Shuttle had line of sight communications with ground stations, and determine points for location-specific observations of the Earth. The Compass sold poorly, as it cost at least US$8000, but it offered unmatched performance for its weight and size. NASA was one of its main customers.
The typeface used on the Space Shuttle Orbiter is Helvetica.
The prototype orbiter Enterprise
originally had a flag of the United States on the upper surface of the left wing and the letters "USA" in black on the right wing. The name "Enterprise" was painted in black on the payload bay doors just above the hinge and behind the crew module; on the aft end of the payload bay doors was the NASA "worm" logotype in gray. Underneath the rear of the payload bay doors on the side of the fuselage just above the wing is the text "United States" in black with a flag of the United States ahead of it.
The first operational orbiter, Columbia
, originally had the same markings as Enterprise
, although the letters "USA" on the right wing were slightly larger and spaced farther apart. Columbia
also had black markings which Enterprise
lacked on its forward RCS module, around the cockpit windows, and on its vertical stabilizer, and had distinctive black "chines" on the forward part of its upper wing surfaces, which none of the other orbiters had.
established a modified marking scheme for the shuttle fleet that was matched by Discovery
. The letters "USA" in black above an American flag were displayed on the left wing, with the NASA "worm" logotype in gray centered above the name of the orbiter in black on the right wing. The name of the orbiter was inscribed not on the payload bay doors, but on the forward fuselage just below and behind the cockpit windows. This would make the name visible when the shuttle was photographed in orbit with the doors open.
In 1983, Enterprise
had its wing markings changed to match Challenger
, and the NASA "worm" logotype on the aft end of the payload bay doors was changed from gray to black. Some black markings were added to the nose, cockpit windows and vertical tail to more closely resemble the flight vehicles, but the name "Enterprise" remained on the payload bay doors as there was never any need to open them. Columbia
had its name moved to the forward fuselage to match the other flight vehicles after STS-61-C, during the 1986–88 hiatus when the shuttle fleet was grounded following the Challenger
loss of , but retained its original wing markings until its last overhaul (after STS-93), and its unique black wing "chines" for the remainder of its operational life.
Beginning in 1998, the flight vehicles' markings were modified to incorporate the NASA "meatball" insignia. The "worm" logotype, which the agency had phased out, was removed from the payload bay doors and the "meatball" insignia was added aft of the "United States" text on the lower aft fuselage. The "meatball" insignia was also displayed on the left wing, with the American flag above the orbiter's name, left-justified rather than centered, on the right wing. The three surviving flight vehicles, Discovery
, still bear these markings as museum displays. Enterprise
became the property of the Smithsonian Institution in 1985 and was no longer under NASA's control when these changes were made, hence the prototype orbiter still has its 1983 markings and still has its name on the payload bay doors.
The Space Shuttle was initially developed in the 1970s, but received many upgrades and modifications afterward to improve performance, reliability and safety. Internally, the Shuttle remained largely similar to the original design, with the exception of the improved avionics computers. In addition to the computer upgrades, the original analog primary flight instruments were replaced with modern full-color, flat-panel display screens, called a glass cockpit, which is similar to those of contemporary airliners. With the coming of the ISS, the orbiter's internal airlocks were replaced with external docking systems to allow for a greater amount of cargo to be stored on the Shuttle's mid-deck during station resupply missions.
The Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) had several improvements to enhance reliability and power. This explains phrases such as "Main engines throttling up to 104 percent." This did not mean the engines were being run over a safe limit. The 100 percent figure was the original specified power level. During the lengthy development program, Rocketdyne determined the engine was capable of safe reliable operation at 104 percent of the originally specified thrust. NASA could have rescaled the output number, saying in essence 104 percent is now 100 percent. To clarify this would have required revising much previous documentation and software, so the 104 percent number was retained. SSME upgrades were denoted as "block numbers", such as block I, block II, and block IIA. The upgrades improved engine reliability, maintainability and performance. The 109% thrust level was finally reached in flight hardware with the Block II engines in 2001. The normal maximum throttle was 104 percent, with 106 percent or 109 percent used for mission aborts.
For the first two missions, STS-1 and STS-2, the external tank was painted white to protect the insulation that covers much of the tank, but improvements and testing showed that it was not required. The weight saved by not painting the tank resulted in an increase in payload capability to orbit. Additional weight was saved by removing some of the internal "stringers" in the hydrogen tank that proved unnecessary. The resulting "light-weight external tank" has been used on the vast majority of Shuttle missions. STS-91 saw the first flight of the "super light-weight external tank". This version of the tank is made of the 2195 aluminum-lithium alloy. It weighs 3.4 metric tons (7,500 lb) less than the last run of lightweight tanks. As the Shuttle was not flown unmanned, each of these improvements was "tested" on operational flights.
The SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters) underwent improvements as well. Design engineers added a third O-ring seal to the joints between the segments after the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger
Several other SRB improvements were planned to improve performance and safety, but never came to be. These culminated in the considerably simpler, lower cost, probably safer and better-performing Advanced Solid Rocket Booster. These rockets entered production in the early to mid-1990s to support the Space Station, but were later canceled to save money after the expenditure of $2.2 billion. The loss of the ASRB program resulted in the development of the Super LightWeight external Tank (SLWT), which provided some of the increased payload capability, while not providing any of the safety improvements. In addition, the Air Force developed their own much lighter single-piece SRB design using a filament-wound system, but this too was canceled.
STS-70 was delayed in 1995, when woodpeckers bored holes in the foam insulation of Discovery'
s external tank. Since then, NASA has installed commercial plastic owl decoys and inflatable owl balloons which had to be removed prior to launch. The delicate nature of the foam insulation had been the cause of damage to the Thermal Protection System, the tile heat shield and heat wrap of the orbiter. NASA remained confident that this damage, while it was the primary cause of the Space Shuttle Columbia
disaster on February 1, 2003, would not jeopardize the completion of the International Space Station (ISS) in the projected time allotted.
A cargo-only, unmanned variant of the Shuttle was variously proposed and rejected since the 1980s. It was called the Shuttle-C, and would have traded re-usability for cargo capability, with large potential savings from reusing technology developed for the Space Shuttle. Another proposal was to convert the payload bay into a passenger area, with versions ranging from 30 to 74 seats, three days in orbit, and cost US$1.5 million per seat.
On the first four Shuttle missions, astronauts wore modified US Air Force high-altitude full-pressure suits, which included a full-pressure helmet during ascent and descent. From the fifth flight, STS-5, until the loss of Challenger
, one-piece light blue nomex flight suits and partial-pressure helmets were worn. A less-bulky, partial-pressure version of the high-altitude pressure suits with a helmet was reinstated when Shuttle flights resumed in 1988. The Launch-Entry Suit ended its service life in late 1995, and was replaced by the full-pressure Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES), which resembled the Gemini space suit in design, but retained the orange color of the Launch-Entry Suit.
To extend the duration that orbiters could stay docked at the ISS, the Station-to-Shuttle Power Transfer System (SSPTS) was installed. The SSPTS allowed these orbiters to use power provided by the ISS to preserve their consumables. The SSPTS was first used successfully on STS-118.
External tank specifications
Solid Rocket Booster specifications
System Stack specifications
All Space Shuttle missions were launched from Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The weather criteria used for launch included, but were not limited to: precipitation, temperatures, cloud cover, lightning forecast, wind, and humidity. The Shuttle was not launched under conditions where it could have been struck by lightning. Aircraft are often struck by lightning with no adverse effects because the electricity of the strike is dissipated through its conductive structure and the aircraft is not electrically grounded. Like most jet airliners, the Shuttle was mainly constructed of conductive aluminum, which would normally shield and protect the internal systems. However, upon liftoff the Shuttle sent out a long exhaust plume as it ascended, and this plume could have triggered lightning by providing a current path to ground. The NASA Anvil Rule for a Shuttle launch stated that an anvil cloud could not appear within a distance of 10 nautical miles. The Shuttle Launch Weather Officer monitored conditions until the final decision to scrub a launch was announced. In addition, the weather conditions had to be acceptable at one of the Transatlantic Abort Landing sites (one of several Space Shuttle abort modes) to launch as well as the solid rocket booster recovery area. While the Shuttle might have safely endured a lightning strike, a similar strike caused problems on Apollo 12, so for safety NASA chose not to launch the Shuttle if lightning was possible (NPR8715.5).
Historically, the Shuttle was not launched if its flight would run from December to January (a year-end rollover or YERO). Its flight software, designed in the 1970s, was not designed for this, and would require the orbiter's computers be reset through a change of year, which could cause a glitch while in orbit. In 2007, NASA engineers devised a solution so Shuttle flights could cross the year-end boundary.
On the day of a launch, after the final hold in the countdown at T-minus 9 minutes, the Shuttle went through its final preparations for launch, and the countdown was automatically controlled by the Ground Launch Sequencer (GLS), software at the Launch Control Center, which stopped the count if it sensed a critical problem with any of the Shuttle's onboard systems. The GLS handed off the count to the Shuttle's on-board computers at T minus 31 seconds, in a process called auto sequence start.
At T-minus 16 seconds, the massive sound suppression system (SPS) began to drench the Mobile Launcher Platform (MLP) and SRB trenches with 300,000 US gallons (1,100 m3) of water to protect the Orbiter from damage by acoustical energy and rocket exhaust reflected from the flame trench and MLP during lift off (NASA article).
At T-minus 10 seconds, hydrogen igniters were activated under each engine bell to quell the stagnant gas inside the cones before ignition. Failure to burn these gases could trip the onboard sensors and create the possibility of an overpressure and explosion of the vehicle during the firing phase. The main engine turbopumps also began charging the combustion chambers with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen at this time. The computers reciprocated this action by allowing the redundant computer systems to begin the firing phase.
The three main engines (SSMEs) started at T-minus 6.6 seconds. The main engines ignited sequentially via the Shuttle's general purpose computers (GPCs) at 120 millisecond intervals. The GPCs required that the engines reach 90 percent of their rated performance to complete the final gimbal of the main engine nozzles to liftoff configuration. When the SSMEs started, water from the sound suppression system flashed into a large volume of steam that shot southward. All three SSMEs had to reach the required 100 percent thrust within three seconds, otherwise the onboard computers would initiate an RSLS abort. If the onboard computers verified normal thrust buildup, at T minus 0 seconds, the 8 pyrotechnic nuts holding the vehicle to the pad were detonated and the SRBs were ignited. At this point the vehicle was committed to liftoff, as the SRBs could not be turned off once ignited. The plume from the solid rockets exited the flame trench in a northward direction at near the speed of sound, often causing a rippling of shockwaves along the actual flame and smoke contrails. At ignition, the GPCs mandated the firing sequences via the Master Events Controller, a computer program integrated with the Shuttle's four redundant computer systems. There were extensive emergency procedures (abort modes) to handle various failure scenarios during ascent. Many of these concerned SSME failures, since that was the most complex and highly stressed component. After the Challenger disaster, there were extensive upgrades to the abort modes.
After the main engines started, but while the solid rocket boosters were still bolted to the pad, the offset thrust from the Shuttle's three main engines caused the entire launch stack (boosters, tank and Shuttle) to pitch down about 2 m at cockpit level. This motion was called the "nod", or "twang" in NASA jargon. As the boosters flexed back into their original shape, the launch stack pitched slowly back upright. This took approximately six seconds. At the point when it was perfectly vertical, the boosters ignited and the launch commenced. The Johnson Space Center's Mission Control Center assumed control of the flight once the SRBs had cleared the launch tower.
Shortly after clearing the tower, the Shuttle began a combined roll, pitch and yaw maneuver that positioned the orbiter head down, with wings level and aligned with the launch pad. The Shuttle flew upside down during the ascent phase. This orientation allowed a trim angle of attack that was favorable for aerodynamic loads during the region of high dynamic pressure, resulting in a net positive load factor, as well as providing the flight crew with use of the ground as a visual reference. The vehicle climbed in a progressively flattening arc, accelerating as the weight of the SRBs and main tank decreased. To achieve low orbit requires much more horizontal than vertical acceleration. This was not visually obvious, since the vehicle rose vertically and was out of sight for most of the horizontal acceleration. The near circular orbital velocity at the 380 kilometers (236 mi) altitude of the International Space Station is 7.68 kilometers per second or 27,650 km/h (17,180 mph), roughly equivalent to Mach 23 at sea level. As the International Space Station orbits at an inclination of 51.6 degrees, missions going there must set orbital inclination to the same value in order to rendezvous with the station.
Around a point called Max Q, where the aerodynamic forces are at their maximum, the main engines were temporarily throttled back to 72 percent to avoid over-speeding and hence overstressing the Shuttle, particularly in vulnerable areas such as the wings. At this point, a phenomenon known as the Prandtl-Glauert singularity occurred, where condensation clouds formed during the vehicle's transition to supersonic speed.
A few seconds later, after the shuttle had gained more altitude and reached a region of lower atmospheric pressure, this dangerous point is passed. At T
+70 seconds the main engines throttled up to their maximum cruise thrust of 104% rated thrust.
+126 seconds after launch, pyrotechnic fasteners released the SRBs and small separation rockets pushed them laterally away from the vehicle. The SRBs parachuted back to the ocean to be reused. The Shuttle then began accelerating to orbit on the main engines. The vehicle at that point in the flight had a thrust-to-weight ratio of less than one – the main engines actually had insufficient thrust to exceed the force of gravity, and the vertical speed given to it by the SRBs temporarily decreased. However, as the burn continued, the weight of the propellant decreased and the thrust-to-weight ratio exceeded 1 again and the ever-lighter vehicle then continued to accelerate towards orbit.
The vehicle continued to climb and take on a somewhat nose-up angle to the horizon – it used the main engines to gain and then maintain altitude while it accelerated horizontally towards orbit. At about five and three-quarter minutes into ascent, the orbiter's direct communication links with the ground began to fade, at which point it rolled heads up to reroute its communication links to the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite system.
Finally, in the last tens of seconds of the main engine burn, the mass of the vehicle was low enough that the engines had to be throttled back to limit vehicle acceleration to 3 g
(29.34 m/s²), largely for astronaut comfort. At approximately eight minutes post launch, the main engines were shut down.
The main engines were shut down before complete depletion of propellant, as running dry would have destroyed the engines. The oxygen supply was terminated before the hydrogen supply, as the SSMEs reacted unfavorably to other shutdown modes. (Liquid oxygen has a tendency to react violently, and supports combustion when it encounters hot engine metal.) The external tank was released by firing pyrotechnic fasteners, largely burning up in the atmosphere, though some fragments fell into the ocean, in either the Indian Ocean or the Pacific Ocean depending on launch profile. The sealing action of the tank plumbing and lack of pressure relief systems on the external tank helped it break up in the lower atmosphere. After the foam burned away during re-entry, the heat caused a pressure buildup in the remaining liquid oxygen and hydrogen until the tank exploded. This ensured that any pieces that fell back to Earth were small.
To prevent the Shuttle from following the external tank back into the lower atmosphere, the Orbital maneuvering system (OMS) engines were fired to raise the perigee higher into the upper atmosphere. On some missions (e.g., missions to the ISS), the OMS engines were also used while the main engines were still firing. The reason for putting the orbiter on a path that brought it back to Earth was not just for external tank disposal but also one of safety: if the OMS malfunctioned, or the cargo bay doors could not open for some reason, the Shuttle was already on a path to return to earth for an emergency abort landing.
The Shuttle was monitored throughout its ascent for short range tracking (10 seconds before liftoff through 57 seconds after), medium range (7 seconds before liftoff through 110 seconds after) and long range (7 seconds before liftoff through 165 seconds after). Short range cameras included 22 16mm cameras on the Mobile Launch Platform and 8 16mm on the Fixed Service Structure, 4 high speed fixed cameras located on the perimeter of the launch complex plus an additional 42 fixed cameras with 16mm motion picture film. Medium range cameras included remotely operated tracking cameras at the launch complex plus 6 sites along the immediate coast north and south of the launch pad, each with 800mm lens and high speed cameras running 100 frames per second. These cameras ran for only 4–10 seconds due to limitations in the amount of film available. Long range cameras included those mounted on the External Tank, SRBs and orbiter itself which streamed live video back to the ground providing valuable information about any debris falling during ascent. Long range tracking cameras with 400-inch film and 200-inch video lenses were operated by a photographer at Playalinda Beach as well as 9 other sites from 38 miles north at the Ponce Inlet to 23 miles south to Patrick Air Force Base (PAFB) and additional mobile optical tracking camera was stationed on Merritt Island during launches. A total of 10 HD cameras were used both for ascent information for engineers and broadcast feeds to networks such as NASA TV and HDNet The number of cameras significantly increased and numerous existing cameras were upgraded at the recommendation of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board to provide better information about the debris during launch. Debris was also tracked using a pair of Weibel Continuous Pulse Doppler X-band radars, one on board the SRB recovery ship MV Liberty Star positioned north east of the launch pad and on a ship positioned south of the launch pad. Additionally, during the first 2 flights following the loss of Columbia and her crew, a pair of NASA WB-57 reconnaissance aircraft equipped with HD Video and Infrared flew at 60,000 feet (18,000 m) to provide additional views of the launch ascent. Kennedy Space Center also invested nearly $3 million in improvements to the digital video analysis systems in support of debris tracking.
Once in orbit, the Shuttle usually flew at an altitude of 200 miles (321.9 km), and occasionally as high as 400 miles. In the 1980s and 1990s, many flights involved space science missions on the NASA/ESA Spacelab, or launching various types of satellites and science probes. By the 1990s and 2000s the focus shifted more to servicing the space station, with fewer satellite launches. Most missions involved staying in orbit several days to two weeks, although longer missions were possible with the Extended Duration Orbiter add-on or when attached to a space station.
Almost the entire Space Shuttle re-entry procedure, except for lowering the landing gear and deploying the air data probes, was normally performed under computer control. However, the re-entry could be flown entirely manually if an emergency arose. The approach and landing phase could be controlled by the autopilot, but was usually hand flown.
The vehicle began re-entry by firing the Orbital maneuvering system engines, while flying upside down, backside first, in the opposite direction to orbital motion for approximately three minutes, which reduced the Shuttle's velocity by about 200 mph (322 km/h). The resultant slowing of the Shuttle lowered its orbital perigee down into the upper atmosphere. The Shuttle then flipped over, by pushing its nose down (which was actually "up" relative to the Earth, because it was flying upside down). This OMS firing was done roughly halfway around the globe from the landing site.
The vehicle started encountering more significant air density in the lower thermosphere at about 400,000 ft (120 km), at around Mach 25, 8,200 m/s (30,000 km/h; 18,000 mph). The vehicle was controlled by a combination of RCS thrusters and control surfaces, to fly at a 40-degree nose-up attitude, producing high drag, not only to slow it down to landing speed, but also to reduce reentry heating. As the vehicle encountered progressively denser air, it began a gradual transition from spacecraft to aircraft. In a straight line, its 40-degree nose-up attitude would cause the descent angle to flatten-out, or even rise. The vehicle therefore performed a series of four steep S-shaped banking turns, each lasting several minutes, at up to 70 degrees of bank, while still maintaining the 40-degree angle of attack. In this way it dissipated speed sideways rather than upwards. This occurred during the 'hottest' phase of re-entry, when the heat-shield glowed red and the G-forces were at their highest. By the end of the last turn, the transition to aircraft was almost complete. The vehicle leveled its wings, lowered its nose into a shallow dive and began its approach to the landing site.
Simulation of the outside of the Shuttle as it heats up to over 1,500 °C during re-entry.
A Space Shuttle model undergoes a wind tunnel test in 1975. This test is simulating the ionized gasses that surround a Shuttle as it reenters the atmosphere.
A computer simulation of high velocity air flow around the Space Shuttle during re-entry.
The orbiter's maximum glide ratio/lift-to-drag ratio varies considerably with speed, ranging from 1:1 at hypersonic speeds, 2:1 at supersonic speeds and reaching 4.5:1 at subsonic speeds during approach and landing.
In the lower atmosphere, the orbiter flies much like a conventional glider, except for a much higher descent rate, over 50 m/s (180 km/h; 110 mph)(9800fpm). At approximately Mach 3, two air data probes, located on the left and right sides of the orbiter's forward lower fuselage, are deployed to sense air pressure related to the vehicle's movement in the atmosphere.
When the approach and landing phase began, the orbiter was at a 3,000 m (9,800 ft) altitude, 12 km (7.5 mi) from the runway. The pilots applied aerodynamic braking to help slow down the vehicle. The orbiter's speed was reduced from 682 to 346 km/h (424 to 215 mph), approximately, at touch-down (compared to 260 km/h (160 mph) for a jet airliner). The landing gear was deployed while the Orbiter was flying at 430 km/h (270 mph). To assist the speed brakes, a 12 m (39 ft) drag chute was deployed either after main gear or nose gear touchdown (depending on selected chute deploy mode) at about 343 km/h (213 mph). The chute was jettisoned once the orbiter slowed to 110 km/h (68.4 mph).
touches down for the final time at the end of STS-133.
brake chute deploys after touching down
Media related to Landings of space Shuttles at Wikimedia Commons
After landing, the vehicle stayed on the runway for several hours for the orbiter to cool. Teams at the front and rear of the orbiter tested for presence of hydrogen, hydrazine, monomethylhydrazine, nitrogen tetroxide and ammonia (fuels and by products of the control and the orbiter's three APUs). If hydrogen was detected, an emergency would be declared, the orbiter powered down and teams would evacuate the area. A convoy of 25 specially-designed vehicles and 150 trained engineers and technicians approached the orbiter. Purge and vent lines were attached to remove toxic gases from fuel lines and the cargo bay about 45–60 minutes after landing. A flight surgeon boarded the orbiter for initial medical checks of the crew before disembarking. Once the crew left the orbiter, responsibility for the vehicle was handed from the Johnson Space Center back to the Kennedy Space Center
If the mission ended at Edwards Air Force Base in California, White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico, or any of the runways the orbiter might use in an emergency, the orbiter was loaded atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a modified 747, for transport back to the Kennedy Space Center, landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility. Once at the Shuttle Landing Facility, the orbiter was then towed 2 miles (3.2 km) along a tow-way and access roads normally used by tour buses and KSC employees to the Orbiter Processing Facility where it began a months-long preparation process for the next mission.
NASA preferred Space Shuttle landings to be at Kennedy Space Center. If weather conditions made landing there unfavorable, the Shuttle could delay its landing until conditions are favorable, touch down at Edwards Air Force Base, California, or use one of the multiple alternate landing sites around the world. A landing at any site other than Kennedy Space Center meant that after touchdown the Shuttle must be mated to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and returned to Cape Canaveral. Space Shuttle Columbia
(STS-3) once landed at the White Sands Space Harbor, New Mexico; this was viewed as a last resort as NASA scientists believe that the sand could potentially damage the Shuttle's exterior.
There were many alternative landing sites that were never used.
An example of technical risk analysis for a STS mission is SPRA iteration 3.1 top risk contributors for STS-133:
An internal NASA risk assessment study (conducted by the Shuttle Program Safety and Mission Assurance Office at Johnson Space Center) released in late 2010 or early 2011 concluded that the agency had seriously underestimated the level of risk involved in operating the Shuttle. The report assessed that there was a 1 in 9 chance of a catastrophic disaster during the first nine flights of the Shuttle but that safety improvements had later improved the risk ratio to 1 in 100.
Below is a list of major events in the Space Shuttle orbiter fleet.
Sources: NASA launch manifest, NASA Space Shuttle archive
On January 28, 1986, Challenger
disintegrated 73 seconds after launch due to the failure of the right SRB, killing all seven astronauts on board. The disaster was caused by low-temperature impairment of an O-ring, a mission critical seal used between segments of the SRB casing. The failure of a lower O-ring seal allowed hot combustion gases to escape from between the booster sections and burn through the adjacent external tank, causing it to explode. Repeated warnings from design engineers voicing concerns about the lack of evidence of the O-rings' safety when the temperature was below 53 °F (12 °C) had been ignored by NASA managers.
On February 1, 2003, Columbia
disintegrated during re-entry, killing its crew of seven, because of damage to the carbon-carbon leading edge of the wing caused during launch. Ground control engineers had made three separate requests for high-resolution images taken by the Department of Defense that would have provided an understanding of the extent of the damage, while NASA's chief thermal protection system (TPS) engineer requested that astronauts on board Columbia
be allowed to leave the vehicle to inspect the damage. NASA managers intervened to stop the Department of Defense's assistance and refused the request for the spacewalk, and thus the feasibility of scenarios for astronaut repair or rescue by Atlantis
were not considered by NASA management at the time.
NASA retired the Space Shuttle in 2011, after 30 years of service. The Shuttle was originally conceived of and presented to the public as a "Space Truck", which would, among other things, be used to build a United States space station in low earth orbit in the early 1990s. When the US space station evolved into the International Space Station project, which suffered from long delays and design changes before it could be completed, the service life of the Space Shuttle was extended several times until 2011, serving at least 15 years longer than it was originally designed to do. Discovery
was the first of NASA's three remaining operational Space Shuttles to be retired.
The final Space Shuttle mission was originally scheduled for late 2010, but the program was later extended to July 2011 when Michael Suffredini of the ISS program said that one additional trip was needed in 2011 to deliver parts to the International Space Station. The Shuttle's final mission consisted of just four astronauts—Christopher Ferguson (Commander), Douglas Hurley (Pilot), Sandra Magnus (Mission Specialist 1), and Rex Walheim (Mission Specialist 2); they conducted the 135th and last space Shuttle mission on board Atlantis
, which launched on July 8, 2011, and landed safely at the Kennedy Space Center on July 21, 2011, at 5:57 AM EDT (09:57 UTC).
NASA announced it would transfer orbiters to education institutions or museums at the conclusion of the Space Shuttle program. Each museum or institution is responsible for covering the cost of preparing and transporting each vehicle for display. Twenty museums from across the country submitted proposals for receiving one of the retired orbiters. NASA also made Space Shuttle thermal protection system tiles available to schools and universities for less than US$25 each. About 7,000 tiles were available on a first-come, first-served basis, limited to one per institution.
On April 12, 2011, NASA announced selection of locations for the remaining Shuttle orbiters:
Flight and mid-deck training hardware will be taken from the Johnson Space Center and will go to the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The full fuselage mockup, which includes the payload bay and aft section but no wings, is to go to the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Mission Simulation and Training Facility's fixed simulator will go to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, and the motion simulator will go to the Texas A&M Aerospace Engineering Department in College Station, Texas. Other simulators used in Shuttle astronaut training will go to the Wings of Dreams Aviation Museum in Starke, Florida and the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, Virginia.
In August 2011, the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a "Review of NASA's Selection of Display Locations for the Space Shuttle Orbiters"; the review had four main findings:
The NASA OIG had three recommendations, saying NASA should:
In September 2011, the CEO and two board members of Seattle's Museum of Flight met with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, pointing out "significant errors in deciding where to put its four retiring Space Shuttles"; the errors alleged include inaccurate information on Museum of Flight's attendance and international visitor statistics, as well as the readiness of the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum's exhibit site.
Until another US manned spacecraft is ready, crews will travel to and from the International Space Station (ISS) exclusively aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
A planned successor to STS was the "Shuttle II", during the 1980s and 1990s, and later the Constellation program during the 2004–2010 period. CSTS was a proposal to continue to operate STS commercially, after NASA. In September 2011, NASA announced the selection of the design for the new Space Launch System that is planned to launch the Orion spacecraft and other hardware to missions beyond low earth-orbit.
The Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program began in 2006 with the purpose of creating commercially operated unmanned cargo vehicles to service the ISS. The SpaceX Dragon became operational in 2012, and the Orbital Sciences' Cygnus, is expected to be launched in September 2013. The Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program was initiated in 2010 with the purpose of creating commercially operated manned spacecraft capable of delivering at least four crew members to the ISS, to stay docked for 180 days, and then return them back to Earth. These spacecraft are expected to become operational in the mid-2010s.
Space Shuttles have been features of fiction and nonfiction, from movies for kids to documentaries. Early examples include the 1979 James Bond film, Moonraker
, the 1982 Activision videogame Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space
(1982) and G. Harry Stine's 1981 novel Shuttle Down
. In the 1986 film SpaceCamp
accidentally launched into space with a group of U.S. Space Camp participants as its crew. The 1998 film Armageddon
portrayed a combined crew of offshore oil rig workers and US military staff who pilot two modified Shuttles to avert the destruction of Earth by an asteroid. Retired American test pilots visited a Russian satellite in the 2000 Clint Eastwood adventure film Space Cowboys
. In the 2003 film The Core,
s landing is disrupted by the earth's magnetic core, and its crew is selected to pilot the vehicle designed to restart the core. The 2004 Bollywood movie Swades
, where a Space Shuttle was used to launch a special rainfall monitoring satellite, was filmed at Kennedy Space Center in the year following the Columbia disaster that had taken the life of Indian-American astronaut KC Chawla. On television, the 1996 drama The Cape
portrayed the lives of a group of NASA astronauts as they prepared for and flew Shuttle missions. Odyssey 5
was a short lived sci-fi series that featured the crew of a Space Shuttle as the last survivors of a disaster that destroyed Earth.
The Space Shuttle has also been the subject of toys and models; for example, a large Lego Space Shuttle model was constructed by visitors at Kennedy Space Center, and smaller models have been sold commercially as a standard "LegoLand" set. A 1984 pinball machine "Space Shuttle" was produced by Williams and features a plastic Space Shuttle mockup amongst other artwork of astronauts on the playfield.
The U.S. Postal Service has released several postage issues that depict the Space Shuttle. The first such stamps were issued in 1981, and are on display at the National Postal Museum.
Coordinates: 38.88306°N 77.01639°W / 38°52′59″N 77°0′59″W
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.
The Space Shuttle was a crewed, partially reusable low Earth orbital spacecraft operated by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Its official program name was Space Transportation System, taken from a 1969 plan for a system of reusable spacecraft of which it was the only item funded for development. The first of four orbital test flights occurred in 1981, leading to operational flights beginning in 1982. It was used on a total of 135 missions from 1981 to 2011, launched from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Operational missions launched numerous satellites, interplanetary probes, and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST); conducted science experiments in orbit; and participated in construction and servicing of the International Space Station.
Shuttle components included the Orbiter Vehicle (OV), a pair of recoverable solid rocket boosters (SRBs), and the expendable external tank (ET) containing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The Shuttle was launched vertically like a conventional rocket, with the two SRBs operating in parallel with the OV's three main engines, which were fueled from the ET. The SRBs were jettisoned before the vehicle reached orbit, and the ET was jettisoned just before orbit insertion using the orbiter's two Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) engines. At the conclusion of the mission, the orbiter fired its OMS to drop out of orbit and re-enter the atmosphere. The orbiter glided to a runway landing on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base in California or at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the KSC. After the landings at Edwards, the orbiter was flown back to KSC on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a specially modified Boeing 747.
The Shuttle-C was a NASA proposal to turn the Space Shuttle launch stack into a dedicated unmanned cargo launcher. This would use the Space Shuttle external tank and Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs), combined with a cargo module that would attach to Shuttle hardpoints (the bipod, etc.) and include the Space Shuttle Main Engines. Various Shuttle-C concepts were investigated between 1984 and 1995.
The Shuttle-C concept would theoretically cut development costs for a heavy launch vehicle by re-using technology developed for the shuttle program. The proposal involved using, at various times, existing spaceframes, Space Shuttle Main Engines that had reached maintenance lifetime limits, and spare navigation computers. One proposal even involved converting the Columbia or Enterprise into a single-use cargo launcher. Before the Challengerloss of Space Shuttle , NASA had expected about 14 shuttle flights a year. In the aftermath of the Challenger incident, it became clear that this launch rate was not feasible for a variety of reasons. With the Shuttle-C, it was thought that the lower maintenance and safety requirements for the unmanned vehicle would allow a higher flight rate. NASA
The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster occurred on February 1, 2003, when, shortly before it was scheduled to conclude its 28th mission, STS-107, the ColumbiaSpace Shuttle disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana as it reentered Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven crew members.
During launch, a piece of foam insulation broke off from the Space Shuttle external tank and struck the left wing. When the Shuttle reentered the atmosphere, the damage allowed hot gases to penetrate and destroy the internal wing structure, which rapidly caused the spacecraft to break up. Technology Internet
Human spaceflight (or manned spaceflight or crewed spaceflight) is space travel with humans aboard spacecraft. When a spacecraft is manned, it can be piloted directly, as opposed to machine or robotic space probes controlled remotely by humans or through automatic methods on board the spacecraft.
Humans have been continually present in space for
13 years and 7 days on the International Space Station. The first manned spaceflight was launched by the Soviet Union on 12 April 1961 as a part of the Vostok program, with cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin aboard.
NASA's Space Shuttle Program, officially called the Space Transportation System (STS), was the United States government's manned launch vehicle program from 1981 to 2011, with the program officially beginning in 1972. The winged Space Shuttle orbiter was launched vertically, usually carrying four to seven astronauts (although two and eight have been carried) and up to 50,000 lb (22,700 kg) of payload into low Earth orbit (LEO). When its mission was complete, the Shuttle could independently move itself out of orbit using its Orbital Maneuvering System (it oriented itself heads down and tail first, firing its OMS engines, thus slowing it down) and re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. During descent and landing the orbiter acted as a re-entry vehicle and a glider, using its RCS system and flight control surfaces to maintain altitude until it made an unpowered landing at either Kennedy Space Center or Edwards Air Force Base.
The Shuttle is the only winged manned spacecraft to have achieved orbit and land, and the only reusable manned space vehicle that has ever made multiple flights into orbit (the Russian shuttle Buran was very similar and had the same capabilities but made only one unmanned spaceflight before it was cancelled). Its missions involved carrying large payloads to various orbits (including segments to be added to the International Space Station), providing crew rotation for the International Space Station, and performing service missions. The orbiter also recovered satellites and other payloads (e.g. from the ISS) from orbit and returned them to Earth, though its use in this capacity was rare. Each vehicle was designed with a projected lifespan of 100 launches, or 10 years' operational life. Disaster Accident