The End of the Space Shuttle Era

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Space Shuttle Era NASA

When Atlantis returns to Earth today completing its last mission, there will be no more space shuttle flights. TOI evaluates the shuttle era when Nasa’s reusable spacecraft, which took off like a rocket and landed like an aircraft, defined space travel for 30 years, 135 flights, 2 tragedies and an 850 – million – km run.

Space Shuttle Program

NASA Space Program called the ‘Space Transportation System,’ the shuttle program was launched on 5 January, 1972 with the aim of giving US a less – expensive means of access to space. The shuttles remain the only reusable space vehicles that have made multiple flights into orbit. The Soviets tried to copy with the Buran spacecraft, but it made just a single unmanned flight in 1988.

Timeline of Space Shuttle Program

  • Endeavor
  • Atlantis
  • Discovery
  • Challenger
  • Columbia

NASA Space Shuttle Facts

  1. 6 Shuttles built ( Including test Vehicle, The Enterprise )
  2. Carried 350 People into space in 135 fight missons
  3. Shuttles travelled over 850 million km, more than enough to reach Jupiter.

NASA Space Shuttle Works

  • Blast off of Space Shuttle Atlantis
    Before liftoff, Supercold Hydrogen and Oxygen mix to generate fuel for the shuttle’s three main engine which drain the external tank at a rate equal to emptying an average swimming pool in 20 seconds.
  • Rockets Separate Solid Booster
    Depleted solid rocket boosters are ejected from the external tank assembly.
  • Space Shuttle External Tank Separation
    Shuttle’s main engine is cut off. Before entering orbit, the depleted external tank is ejected and discarded.
  • Space Shuttle Orbit NASA
    Shuttle orbiter fires its main engine to reach an optimal orbit. Cargo bay doors are opened to release payload.
  • ISS Docking Schedule
    On certain missions, shuttle docks with the International Space Station. Supplies from cargo container are transferred to the station and astronauts may even go on a space walk to test systems or perform repairs.
  • Deorbit Preparation
    Equipment is stowed and cargo bay doors are closed.
  • Deorbit Burn Space Shuttle
    To Slow down, the shuttle is turned around to fly tail first and the main engines are fired.
  • Space Shuttle Atmospheric re entry
    Shuttle enters the atmosphere with its nose pointing up. Atmospheric drag causes rapid deceleration, generating temp up to 3000 F. The ship performs a series of turns to further reduce its speed.
  • Landing Space Shuttle
    At an altitude of 13,000ft from the runway, the orbiter descends on a glideslope trajectory of 22 degrees. Fourteen seconds before touchdown, the wheels are deployed. The ship normally lands at a speed of 215mph.

NASA Space Achievements

  1. Carried Hubble Space Telescope into orbit, repaired and upgraded it.
  2. Helped put together the football field – sized International Space Station, Launched, repaired or recovered around 100 satellites, launched 3 space probes and hosted hundreds of experiments.
  3. Program spawned 120 commercialized Spinoffs, 40 more than Apollo, including an artificial heart device, thermal protection for racing cars, bioreactors for designing drugs and rescue tools for car accident victims.

NASA Space Shuttle Tragedies

14 Astronauts, including India – born Kalpana Chawla, died in 2 shuttle mishaps. On 28 January, 1986, Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight and on 1 February, 2003 Columbia disintegrated on reentry.

Criticism Space Shuttle Program

With total costs estimated at $209bn, Space Shuttle Program has been way more expensive than Promised. Per – flight costs are apparently $1.6bn while initial projections were 50 missions a year at less than $10m per launch. The fleet never flew more than 9 missions a year. Shuttles kept space program tied to low – Earth orbit, stifling ambitions of manned missions in outer space.

In the decades after the peak of the Apollo program, Nasa’s share of the US federal budget has been shrinking consistently.

Current & Future Capsules used in NASA

After the decommissioning of the shuttle fleet, the US will have no capsule to transport crew or cargo to the International Space Station – let alone a rocket to carry it.

A. Soyuz TMA ( 1966* ) – RSC Energia ( 24.5 ft )

  1. US astronauts will have to ride on the veteran Russian spacecraft to go to the space station. Soyuz has been in service for around 45 years.

* First Launch.

B. ATV ( 2008* ) ESA ( 35.1 ft )

  1. The European automated transfer vehicle can deliver 7. 3 tonnes of cargo, but no people, to ISS.

C. Space X Dragon ( 2010* ) – SpaceX ( 20.4 ft )

  1. Aspires to be the first private vehicle to deliver astronauts and cargo to ISS.

D. NASA MPCV – Lockheed Martin ( 26ft )

  1. This is NASA’s next generation manned capsule,if it is ever built.

NASA Space Projects

  1. Nasa enters period of uncertainty. With shuttles gone, it will rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft and commercial flights to ferry American astronauts.
  2. Shuttles’ planned successor was to be Project Constellation with its Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles and the Orion spacecraft, but in 2010 the Obama administration asked Congress to endorse a scaled – back plan with reliance on private sector.
  3. Manned Missions to moon, an asteroid and Mars remain on NASA radar but no concrete plans yet.

Astronauts Dream in NASA – ( John Young landing first space shuttle on 14 April, 1981 )

  • Anyone who sits on top of the largest hydrogen – oxygen fuelled system in the world, knowing thy’re going to light the bottom – and doesn’t get a little worried. Does not fully understand the situation.

President’s Speech about first space shuttle – ( Ronald Reagan ) ( George W Bush )

  • To the crew of Columbia after completion of the first shuttle mission.
  • Addressing the nation after the columbia disaster on 1 February, 2003.