Photo above: Jefferson Memorial. Right: Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., 2016. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
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Detail - 1981, 2011
April 12, 1981 - The first launch of the Space Shuttle from Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center occurs as Columbia begins its STS-1 mission. The Space Shuttle is the first reusable spacecraft to be flown into orbit, and it returned to earth for a traditional touch down landing two days later.
July 21, 2011 - The final shuttle flight lands at the Kennedy Space Center, signifying the end of the NASA shuttle space program. The program, which began in 1981 and included 135 missions, was completed when the Shuttle Atlantis flew its final mission to the International Space Station.
Four decades of amazing achievements in space with the first reusable spacecraft, NASA's Space Shuttle program, shooting into orbit from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral from 1981 to 2011. Four decades of scientific experiments, in the shuttle bay and later Spacelab and the International Space Station. Yes, there had been tragedies. And yes, there had been those grand achievements. Five shuttles capable of spaceflight were built; Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor. One hundred and thirty-five missions were flown.
The idea for a resuable craft had been around since the 1950's, although the plans and design for the actual space shuttle would start in 1968 with NASA's Integrated Launch and Re-entry Vehicle. The shuttles were eventually built by Rockwell International in Palmdale, California. They are one hundred and eighty-four feet long with a wingspan of seventy-eight feet and weight, give or take depending on the mission, of 4.5 million pounds. The payload bay is sixty feet by fifteen feet. The first shuttle, Enterprise, was a test vehicle, taken into the skies by a 747 to test whether it could glide and land in 1977. There were five free flight tests using the Enterprise before the first operational mission of the Columbia was launched in 1981. The Enterprise never had a mission into space.
The first flight of the Columbia occured from April 12 to April 14, 1981, encompassing two days and six hours. It took off from Cape Canaveral and landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The launch date coincided with the 20th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first spaceflight for the Soviet Union. John Young, veteran of the Apollo and Geminia space programs who had walked on the moon, commanded the flight with Robert Crippen, a rookie astronaut, as the pilot. The first mission circled the earth thirty-six times before landing on a dry lake bed at Edwards.
Shuttle History Through the Years
The five shuttles that made the one hundred and thirty-five spaceflights were launched and retired at various times during the Shuttle Program. Each shuttle mission cost an average of $775 million and the entire program cost over $110 billion.
Shuttle Columbia - Twenty-eight missions. First flight, April 12, 1981. Shuttle was used to launch the Spacelab and crew in 1983. Last flight, February 1, 2003. Columbia was lost during re-entry with seven astronauts onboard.
Shuttle Challenger - Ten missions. First flight, April 4, 1983. Last flight, January 28, 1986. Lost during launch with seven astronauts onboard.
Shuttle Discovery - Thirty-nine missions. First flight, August 30, 1984. Last flight, February/March 2011. Launched the Hubble Space Telescope.
Shuttle Endeavor - Twenty-five missions. First flight, May 7, 1992. Last flight, May/June 2011.
Shuttle Atlantis - Thirty-three missions. First flight, October 3, 1985. Last flight, July 8-21, 2011.
The Final Shuttle Flight
Mission 135 was not originally intended to be the last, but was authorized in October 2010, extending the Space Shuttle program for one additional mission from its intended last Mission 134. The Atlantis would have a four man crew; Christoper Ferguson, Commander (Flight 3), Douglas Hurley, Pilot (Flight 2), Sandra Magnus, Mission Specialist (Flight 3), and Rex Walheim, Mission Specialist (Flight 3). They were delivering two modules to the International Space Station; the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module and the Lightweight Multi-Purpose Carrier. On July 21, after a two week mission, the final Space Shuttle landed at 5:57 a.m. EST at the Kennedy Space Center.
NASA continues to prepare for additional manned spaceflights, although there is still, as of 2017, no spacecraft since the Shuttle Program to use for that purpose. NASA goals include a mission to Mars in the 2020's using a new craft called Orion, that is being designed to travel further into space. It is a space capsule designed for four people and had its initial test on December 5, 2014, landing in the Pacific Ocean after a four hour unmanned flight. ETA for first manned flight expected in 2023. NASA is also developing an Asteroid Redirection Mission, that will attempt to capture an asteroid and put it into the moon's orbit. Astronauts will then explore the asteroid.
Today, the four shuttles are retired and can be visited at four museums around the United States. The Shuttle Atlantis is located at the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral. The Shuttle Discovery at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia. The Shuttle Endeavor at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. The Shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York. Posters of the various missions that you can print for your own use are available at Space Shuttle Posters.
Photo above: Mock up of the Space Shuttle at Space Center, Houston. Courtesy Carol M. Highsmith Collection at the Library of Congress. Photo below: Space Shuttle Atlantis Mission Poster, Final Mission 7/8 to 7/21/2011, Courtesy NASA. Info source: Ourdocuments.gov; NASA; Wikipedia Commons.