The first functional shuttle was the Columbia, launched in 1981. As this overview of the history of the space shuttle will make clear,
the shuttle was designed by NASA and not by a single individual.
Plans for the space shuttle started even before the Apollo lunar missions in 1969. The main concerns at that point were logistics; how much the shuttle would cost and how it was to be built.
It was agreed that the basic set up would include rocket boosters, a disposable external tank and the winged orbiter. The program was officially made public by President Nixon three years later.
The main contractor was Rockwell International (known as North American Aviation back then). Before Columbia was built, a series of prototypes were designed. The history of the space shuttle began with the first completed prototype, the Constitution. Due to insistent public demand the orbiter’s name was changed to the Enterprise after the TV series Star Trek.
The Enterprise was unveiled on September 17, 1976. It conducted a series of test flights, vital to the development of the shuttle. Following the successful experiment, the engineers started working on the shuttle.
The Shuttle Fleet
The shuttle Columbia was constructed in Palmdale, California. It was finished and sent to the Kennedy Space Center. The date was March 25, 1979. The Columbia took off on April 12, 1981. The history of the space shuttle shows that the Columbia made a total of 28 flights.
A year after Columbia’s launch, the Challenger was sent to the Kennedy Space Center. This was followed by the Discovery in 1983 and the shuttle Atlantis two years later. Columbia was destroyed in 2003 as it made its way back to Earth, killing the seven crew members.
Challenger exploded on takeoff on January 28 1986. The Endeavor was created using components from the Challenger in 1991. A total of 14 crew members were killed in the Columbia and Challenger disasters (7 crew members for each flight).
How the Space Shuttle Works
The history of the space shuttle is a good example of how technology and efficient design works hand in hand. The vehicle is powered by a couple of solid rocket boosters.
The fuel is liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. After takeoff, the solid rocket boosters are discarded in the sea. These are retrieved and will be utilized on other flights.
The shuttle is propelled by three engines. When it gets into orbit, the engines are turned off and the external tank is discarded. The orbital maneuvering system is used to manage its movement. Crews number two or seven.
The payload is usually 22,000 pounds. It also comes with a bay window where equipment can be stored. When the shuttle makes its descent, it uses aero braking to reenter the atmosphere properly. The landing process is similar to a glider’s movement.
The history of the space shuttle and its development has been challenging to say the least. It has encountered difficulties but its successes continue to inspire NASA to go on.